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Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Elizabeth Moss

(Columbia Pictures; US DVD: 16 Mar 2010)

Review [18.Dec.2009]

Everyone has a weakness. Superman has kryptonite. Michael Bay has slow motion. The Chicago Cubs have other teams. One always collides with the other in the most disastrous way imaginable.  Through infatuation, circumstance, or inevitability, the subject meets his, her, or their defeat time and time again. 


In some cases, the encounter could be considered an addiction of sorts. The individual may actually go as far as to seek out the downfall, etc. etc. This is all a prolonged way for me to confess my inexplicable, unsubstantiated, and never-ending love for romantic comedies, and thus introduce my justification for recommending Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Let me set a few of you free, first. I do know the film is not a gem in the long history of cinema. Its flaws are obvious. For one, the concept is overused and unoriginal. 


A couple with relationship troubles is forced to bond together when brought into a new environment. In this instance, Paul and Meryl Morgan (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, respectively) are separated. Both have successful jobs, love New York City, and are, well, reproductively challenged. After a vaguely described infidelity, Paul has been kicked out and is forced to work on his marriage from a distance.


Then… the twist! The Morgans witness a murder after an awkward date and are forced to go into the witness protection program. Lucky for us and unlucky for them, the pair is sent to Ray, Wyoming to stay with Clay and Emma Wheeler (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenbergen). If the Morgans are the quintessential lifetime city dwellers, the Wheelers are atypical country folk. The Morgans like computers, cell phones, and fancy restaurants. The Wheelers prefer farming, horses, and rodeos. They’re the odd couples!


Of course, without giving too much away, one pair learns from the other and vice versa. Perhaps their relationships even grow stronger because of the experience. Well, one relationship more than the other, of course. It all sounds fairly familiar, doesn’t it? So this begs the question – why am I telling you who are still reading to give the movie with the worst title of 2009 a chance? 


It’s not the chemistry between the two leads. This overused cliché of the critic who’s fallen for a film he knows is less than great can’t be installed here. Grant is always charismatic. It’s just a personality trait he knows how to exploit perfectly. It’s not exclusive to one actress he works with or another, either. In some films, he doesn’t even need a partner to properly exude his charm. So there may or may not be chemistry between him and Parker, but that doesn’t lesson Grant’s appeal.


That’s not to say Parker is slacking off. Her New York girl shtick is again employed to convey overwrought anxiety of the unknown, but she too has honed her technique to include all the upside and a bare minimum of the downside. The two actors aren’t asked to stray even an inch outside of their comfort zone, but why would anyone want them to in this of all films? Did You Hear About the Morgans? is enchanting in its predictability. It sucks you in with well-worn techniques and holds on through effective execution by its stalwart cast. 


The supporting players, lead by perfectly timed comedy from Sam Elliott, do exactly that – they supports the leads. No one goes too far into his or her hick country stereotypes, instead choosing to exude the so-called ‘Midwestern charm’ (even if we’re in fact way out West). Elliott, Steenburgen, and even the less experienced Moss are covering ground they’ve harvested before, but none of them act like it. Each finds a scene or two to deliver a chuckle or unexpected jab. Still, it never turns ugly. These are professionals who know how to keep an audience in the palm of their hands.


Obviously, though, the film isn’t perfect. If just reading the plot description is enough to make you run and hide, then this clearly isn’t the movie for you. If deleted scenes and outtake reels don’t spark your interest when glancing over the special features section, leave this one on the shelf. The same applies if you don’t want to hear Grant, Parker, and director Marc Lawrence chatter about goofy circumstances during the filming. The extras match their feature in ease of construction and consumption. Easy in, easy out. 


There is an audience out there, though, despite the film’s lackluster receipts at the box office, that enjoys a romantic comedy done well enough. Call them Hollywood stooges. Better yet, gluttons for mediocrity. Whatever the label, you have to count me as one of them (at least for now).  So for those of us who like these two leads and will most likely never tire of their routines, this one’s for us. I know by merely mentioning this I may forever be cursed by the pretentious film gods above, but nevertheless – I am glad to have had the chance to hear about the Morgans. It’s a fun film, darnit.

Rating:

Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.


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Just minutes into Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Paul and Meryl are already deeply annoying.
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At last, dessert, with just a few more entrees tossed in to satisfy those coming late to the table. The big guns -- James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Peter Jackson, Terrence Malik -- are still putting the finishing touches on their over the top treats, hoping that viewers will appreciate the care and craftsmanship that went into each one. As usual, it looks like the Hollywood heavyweights are once again saving some of the best for last.
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