You know what we see a lot of these days? Movies about uptight career women who don’t have the time or social skills for a relationship and are subsequently miserable! Thank god someone made Morning Glory, a movie about an uptight career woman who doesn’t have the time or social skills for a relationship and doesn’t really mind because she loves her work.
That “someone” is Aline Brosh McKenna, who also wrote the screenplays for The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses and Margaret Cho’s short-lived semi-autobiographical sitcom All American Girl. With Morning Glory, Brosh McKenna gives us a movie about a woman with a job that she really cares about, a job that she prioritizes, and that she sometimes allows to consume her life. She isn’t shamed for that as she would be in your average rom com. While the movie isn’t particularly funny, it is notable for this one very important distinction: Becky Fuller has a career, and she refuses to apologize for it.
When Becky loses her job at a local morning news TV show, her mother tells her to give up on her lifelong dream of working at The Today Show. “When you were eight, it was adorable. When you were eighteen, it was inspiring. At twenty-eight, it’s embarrassing.” Her mother encourages to move on before it becomes “heartbreaking.” The movie opens like a standard woman-in-a-relationship-with-her-career rom com. When we meet Becky, she’s on a first date (dinner at 4pm, because she gets up at 1:30am for work) and she’s floundering. She’s incapable of ignoring phone calls, and she talks about work constantly. It’s clear that there will be no second date. When she lands a new job at the struggling New York morning show Daybreak, she does so by impressing an exec with her commitment. The news, she tells him, “is all I do. It’s all I am.” “That’s embarrassing,” he replies. But he gives her the job anyway.
Becky works hard. But unlike so many rom com heroines who prioritize their careers, Becky is not a ball-buster. It’s clear when we meet her that at her old job she is well-liked by her co-workers and by her boss, who is not happy to lay her off. And when she gets to Daybreak, her work style is fanatical, yes, but she’s not a bitch. She’s polite – even when people are rude to her. A Prada-wearing devil she ain’t. Most importantly, she is single, and totally OK with it. To be fair, she is only 28 (your average single-and-hating it rom com heroine is in her early or mid-thirties), but she is also totally unperturbed by the fact that she doesn’t have a boyfriend.
She is, however, clumsy and awkward and pretty bad at determining whether or not men are interested in her. This is pretty standard in romantic comedies, especially for women who have the audacity to have careers that they care about. But Becky is also clumsy and awkward in real life; though she rescues Daybreak from the brink of cancellation, a professional coup, she doesn’t exactly do it with style and panache. In other words, we don’t see Becky transform from poised, collected career woman into bumbling singleton whenever an attractive man enters the room. Her clumsiness and lack of polish are part of her personality, not a social sickness born of too much time spent in the office.
Becky does salvage Daybreak, which, when she arrives, is co-anchored by morning news veteran Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) and Paul McVee (Modern Family’s Ty Burrell). Becky fires the creepy and egotistical McVee on her first morning and convinces the Pulitzer, Peaody and Emmy winner Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) to join the show. Pomeroy is reluctant – he reports real news, you see, not morning news. Morning news is beneath him. It’s “fluffy.” Now, I’m hardly a fan of morning news shows, but it’s not hard to pick up on the fact that Pomeroy’s distaste for the genre is partly about its perceived femininity. It’s a place where women anchors – Katie Couric, Meredith Viera, and so on – have been able to make names for themselves. Evening news, on the other hand (“real” news, because men are home from the office to watch it), is a man’s world, a reality driven home when we see Pomeroy hanging out in a steakhouse and drinking scotch with Chris Matthews and other old white newsmen. The tension between Peck and Pomeroy is exacerbated by Peck’s perception that she has paid her dues in the morning slot, while Pomeroy has swooped in with no morning show experience – and is paid more than she is, even though he refuses to cover any story he doesn’t consider to be “hard” news.
As it turns out, that tension, once it boils over before rolling cameras, means big ratings for the show. So do the various stunts that Becky orchestrates to bring in more viewers. Along the way, she earns the grudging respect of Pomeroy, with whom, by the end of the movie, she has developed something reminiscent of a father-daughter relationship. As a result of her professional success, she’s offered her dream job at The Today Show, which she turns down in favor of the relationships she has forged at Daybreak.
At its core, this is a movie about Becky’s career, and the love story is not nearly as central as the trailers would have you believe. Becky starts dating someone in the news business, a man whose work schedule isn’t as crazy as hers. Eventually, her tendency to talk incessantly about work and her surgical attachment to her Blackberry start to take a toll on their relationship. But instead of feeling torn between her man and her work, as we’d expect in a rom com, Becky’s choice is easy and clear. “You look at me like there’s something wrong with me,” she says when Adam objects to her over-commitment to her job. “I miss looking at my Blackberry for one second and I miss the next big story. I’m tired of feeling guilty about my work.” And then she walks out the door and goes back to work. It shouldn’t be extraordinary for a romantic comedy heroine to unashamedly choose career over romance, but it is. And at the end, when they get back together, there’s no indication that Becky will change her schedule for him. They’ll be together, and she will continue to work long, hard hours. Because she enjoys, cares about and is good at her job.
Morning Glory passes the Bechdel Test, thanks to multiple scenes in which women who work together talk to each other about work. This sounds unimpressive, but you’d be surprised how many rom coms there are in which women who work together talk about nothing but men. Morning Glory is not, however, particularly funny. It has a few laugh-worthy moments but, as far as rom coms go, it’s not particularly comedic, nor is the romantic part of it very central to the plot. Despite the marketing, despite the Natasha Bedingfield songs on the soundtrack, this isn’t your average rom com. It’s a movie about a smart, successful professional woman who isn’t paralyzed with fear at the thought of being single. Again, that shouldn’t be extraordinary. Sadly, in the current rom com climate, it is.