“I got your resume,” sighs Jerry (Jeff Goldblum). “All five of them.” Across his desk sits his eager applicant, Becky (Rachel McAdams). Head of news at the made-up network IBS, Jerry is skeptical, reporting that her ex-boss called her the “most promising producer he’s ever fired,” and also that the job she wants so desperately holds little promise. Daybreak is both bad and unwatched. As he puts it, “We’re behind Today, Good Morning America, and whatever they have on CBS.”
No matter. Becky believes she can turn this “shitty show” around, because, she assures Jerry, “I work harder than anybody else.”
And there you have it. Becky is no ordinary Plucky Girl. Indeed, she is a remarkable Plucky Girl, determined but also charming, clueless but also deeply insightful, and of course, played by the dazzling McAdams. According to the first five minutes of Morning Glory, Becky’s coworkers love her, her employers admire her, and, you get the feeling, someday, she will achieve her dream since childhood, producing for Today. Yes, she has trouble making basic conversation on dates, and yes, she’s addicted to her BlackBerry, but really, she’s adorable and generous, and only needs to find the right outlet for her apparently boundless energies.
As you know already, Daybreak is that outlet. Here Becky’s in charge of an assortment of personalities ranging from easy to excruciating, all of whom she handles with an uncanny brilliance, from her two anchors, ex-beauty queen Colleen (Diane Keaton) and old-school asshole Paul (Ty Burrell), to her most excellent good sport weatherman Ernie (Matt Malloy) and wise veteran producer Lenny (John Pankow). Her skills are attributed at least in part to her experience with her mean mom (Patti D’Arbanville), who says that even if Becky’s aspirations were once “adorable” or even “inspiring,” now, at the ancient age of 28, are just “embarrassing.”
With all these factors arrayed against her, how could you not root for this pluckiest of Plucky Girls? Certainly, you’d be hard pressed to bet against her first step, to fire Paul (who makes a completely gross pass at her) and hire in his place the respected and mostly retired (though still under IBS contract) news journalist, Mike (Harrison Ford). As if confirming her mom’s view, the movie sets up for her a series of embarrassing moments and premises, including her traipsing along behind Mike while he’s out in a field shooting pheasants. Glowering as she chirps, Mike announces, “Half the people who watch your show have lost their remotes, the other half are waiting for their nurse to turn them over.”
Mike is now in place not only as the daddy who might agree with Becky’s mother, but also the unattainable object. Never mind that he’s right, that morning shows are by definition soft and unserious. In this universe, where pluck must win out, he’s cast as grumpy and out of date. Imagine, this Pulitzer-winning fuddy-duddy thinks of news as a “sacred temple,” and doesn’t want to sit at a desk with Colleen, where he’ll banter and smile through cooking segments and stories on the fall television season. This guy is so surly that even when agrees to do the show (“for the money,” so he’s really as crass and unprincipled as anyone else), he goes on to nearly sabotage it by going on a bender the night before his debut. He’s so very surly that when Becky pleads with him, “My ass is on the line here,” he can look at her straight-faced and pronounce, “Your ass is irrelevant.”
In a broad scheme of things, he’s right. And yet, even as she’s unhappy that Mike abuses her, Becky proves his point, remaining perky and defiant in order to get him on set in time for that first show (cue gasps and applause in the booth). Of course she does. She also has a love interest, fellow IBS employee Adam (Patrick Wilson), so you don’t worry for a second that she might fall into bed with way-too-old-for-her Mike. Adam’s entrée into Becky’s sphere is his previous experience with Mike, an ex-boss he calls “the third worst person in the world,” though he has no doubts about the man’s commitment to news—as a religion and source of his own identity, but also as a public service (for which he used to be paid a lot of money).
In this assessment, Adam and Becky are most surely in synch: they earnestly value what Mike does, or at least what he did, and they can understand, to a point, why he’s loathe to utter the word “fluffy” on air. So why is it that Morning Glory puts the couple in the position of wanting him to cave, to submit to the order of crap morning shows, to smile with Colleen and read gossip and stories on “how to cope with menopause.” Granted, Becky (or more precisely, McAdams) is hard to resist, at once alluring and game, with a whiff of Jean Arthur or Barbara Stanwyck in her resilience even inside a movie that doesn’t appreciate her. But it’s that movie that finally wins out, situating her preposterously and depressing the very vitality she seems initially to radiate so completely. That Becky finds her way in a business that demands she produce uninteresting human interest stories is not a triumph. It’s capitulation.