Morning Glory is a comedy suffering from a frustrating identity crisis. The film has all the focus of a cocaine-addicted squirrel, so it never decides which story it wants to tell. As a result, nothing in the film is particularly satisfying, despite sparks of potential all over the place. Does it want to be a scathing satire of news-as-entertainment, or a respectful paean to the difficulties suffered even by morning news personalities? A career-versus-romance story (because in the movies, nobody can ever do both successfully), or the tale of a career-driven young woman trying to earn the respect of both her peers and her family? The truth is, half the time the film doesn’t even seem sure if it wants Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams) as its main character. It could just as easily follow the bitter rivalry between veteran newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) and longtime Daybreak host Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), or the tragic fall of the IBS network’s news chief (Jeff Goldblum).

The majority of the time, director Roger Michell aims the camera at Becky. The film opens with her getting fired from a small-market morning show. A few weeks later, she’s hired as the executive producer of Daybreak, the lowest-rated national morning show on TV. Her task: Turn things around as quickly as possible. She gets the ball rolling by first firing the current anchor (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell in a thankless, surprisingly unfunny cameo).

After scouring audition tapes of various anchors to replace him, Becky realizes Pomeroy has a Dan Rather-esque deal with IBS: He can pitch up to six hour-long specials a year, but none of the stories he wants to do suit IBS. Basically, they’re paying him to do nothing. She uses a loophole in Pomeroy’s contract to force him onto Daybreak, against his will. See, he’s a real newsman, and he considers morning shows undignified.

Sometimes, the movie is about Becky’s difficult struggle to keep Pomeroy happy. Sometimes, it’s about her attempting a relationship with a news producer (Patrick Wilson). Sometimes, it’s about her giving in to sensationalism in order to boost the ratings. Sometimes, it’s about Pomeroy wanting to prove to himself he’s still a real journalist. Sometimes, it’s even about the surprisingly paternal relationship that develops between a veteran Daybreak producer (John Pankow) and Becky.

Unfortunately, Morning Glory has so little focus that even the good things don’t have time to resonate. Exceptionally bad dialogue allows the characters to flatly describe themselves and what they’re feeling instead of taking the time to let the audiences see and feel along with them. When they run out of time for bad dialogue, a closing montage reminds us of long-forgotten characters and hastily abandoned early subplots. It tries to tie up loose ends, but it really serves as a prime example of how sloppy the film actually is.

On the plus side, McAdams is her typical charming self throughout the film. Ford’s late-period decision to grouse and grumble his way through every role actually fits with the character he plays, so that’s an unintentional bonus. The film mostly wastes a cast of ringers, though, including Keaton, Goldblum, and Wilson. The one actor who really stands out, surprisingly, is Pankow. Often a supporting player, probably best remembered as Paul Reiser’s cousin on Mad About You, his scenes with McAdams are often the film’s best. His easy rapport with her, and the father-daughter chemistry they share, is much more natural and fun to watch than the filmmakers trying to force the same sort of relationship between Becky and Pomeroy.

What frustrates me is the film that could have been. When the dialogue isn’t abrasively on-the-nose, it’s quite witty and amusing. The cast Michell has assembled is uniformly too good for the material, and the proceedings feel frustratingly watered down. This is most evident in the handling of Daybreak. After starting off with a little ineffectual media satire, the film inexplicably treats Becky’s decision to resort to sensationalism to boost ratings as the best possible choice, and a third-act twist has Pomeroy hosting a cooking segment to prove he cares about the show more than his journalistic integrity. At one point, Becky states the apparent theme to Pomeroy: “In the battle between news and entertainment, your side lost.” The film treats this as if we’re supposed to be on Becky’s side of the argument. It’s kind of a weird, dispiriting message.

The bottom line is this: go rent Network and/or Broadcast News. Even Switching Channels is a better choice. What a disappointment.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

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