December 17, 2009

Did You Hear about the Morgans?

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Did You Hear about the Morgans?

ROMANCE/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-12-18

Running Length:

1:43

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Content, Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen, Wilford Brimley, Michael Kelly

Director:

Marc Lawrence

Screenplay:

Marc Lawrence

Cinematography:

Florian Ballhaus

Music:

Theodore Shapiro

U.S. Distributor:

Columbia Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Did You Hear about the Morgans? Yes and, to be perfectly frank, I wish I had been spared the experience.

I'm gullible. I'll buy just about any premise Hollywood is selling, provided it is sold well. Did You Hear about the Morgans? proves these filmmakers couldn't sell ice cream to a kid in the middle of the summer. Not only does the movie fail to convince, it doesn't seem concerned about convincing. It's a romantic comedy, so we're supposed to take it on faith that the male lead and female lead will end up together at the end. Likewise, we're not expected to notice the contrived contortions the script goes through to arrive at that destination. The film is so obvious about how it goes about things that it's almost embarrassing. Unattended phone in the doctor's office - think someone will use it who's not supposed to be making calls? Lessons about shooting a gun - think that will come in handy when the bad guy pays a visit? And what about horse shoe expertise shown by one of the characters? Writer/director Marc Lawrence is inexcusably clumsy in presenting the roadmap. This is what critics mean when they say "the seams show." The world inhabited by these individuals fails to become real. It's never anything more than "just a movie," and not an especially good one, at that.

Of all the actresses Hugh Grant has been matched with over the years, Sarah Jessica Parker represents a nadir. There's nothing between these actors. There's no pop or sizzle. The characters say they love one other, but those are just words. There's no sense of affection. No passion, even when they fight. Their dialogue rings hollow. These two aren't believable and their relationship is a black hole. Who cares? We're supposed to be invested in getting them to connect by the closing credits, but this is one stock that never has value to begin with.

As Paul Morgan, Grant (over)uses his patented "aw shucks" charm to compensate for the fact that his character is a cheating ass. Then again, once we are introduced to his less-than-blushing bride, Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), we can understand the appeal of a one-night stand with someone else. What's more difficult to comprehend is why he would want to salvage his marriage to someone so shrill, superficial, and self-absorbed. But he does, and that's why they're wandering a New York City street in the rain at night after having endured a tense dinner. They are unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (kind of like anyone who has ventured into a theater showing this movie). They witness a murder and the killer sees their faces. The FBI places them in the "witness relocation program," provides them with new (temporary) identities, and ships them off to Ray, WY to stay with the local sheriff, Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott), and his wife, Emma (Mary Steenburgen). While there, Paul and Meryl work to rebuild their marriage while doing stupid things that will allow the killer to discover their location.

Did You Hear about the Morgans? wants to be a combination romance and fish-out-of-water comedy, but it doesn't succeed as either. It wastes too many opportunities to have some fun with the concept of a materialistic city girl out of her element (consider how little is done with the staple cow-milking scene). Even Green Acres wasn't this inept. Most of the jokes are halfhearted and poorly delivered (although, to be fair, Grant gets in a few good one-liners). The entire production is weighed down by the preposterous premise and the need to have a final confrontation with the killer. This is an albatross around the neck of a movie that already has too many other things pulling it to the ground.

By all accounts, Hugh Grant is in a state of semi-retirement. His ability to cherry-pick his projects to suit his tastes makes one wonder why he would select something with such a dubious script. I suppose it has something to do with director Marc Lawrence. This is the third movie they have made together (following the breezy Music and Lyrics and the limp Two Weeks Notice), and they appear to enjoy working together. Too bad the fruit of those efforts isn't less rancid by the time it reaches theaters.

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