Sony // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // March 16th, 2010
We're not in Manhattan anymore.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? endured a mediocre box office performance and got some atrocious reviews last December. The film, which is currently rocking a dismal 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is the first time Hugh Grant has been on our screens since 2007's passableMusic and Lyrics and marks an obvious paycheque for Sarah Jessica Parker in between Sex and the City movies. Knowing all of this in advance, I was expecting to be thoroughly disgusted by the film; everything seemed to indicate that the movie was stinker. So I'm both relieved and slightly ashamed with the fact I thought the picture was actually okay. It might be an unremarkable romcom with an obvious last act, but Did You Hear About the Morgans? has a frothy charm that keeps it perfectly tolerable.
Paul (Hugh Grant, About a Boy) and Meryl Morgan (Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City) are a recently separated couple due to infidelity committed by the former on a business trip. On a visit from Paul to try and convince Meryl that their marriage is worth another shot, the pair witnesses a killing, and Paul and Meryl are targeted by the murderer as a consequence. The government steps in and moves the Morgans to a remote town in Wyoming for their safety, issuing them slightly altered identities and leaving the pair under the watch of the local Sheriff (Sam Elliott, Ghost Rider) and his wife (Mary Steenburgen, Step Brothers). As Paul desperately tries to resolve the marital conflict, the couple is forced to adapt to small town life, leaving their big city habits behind them.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? is devoid of original plotting or much intelligence, not usually good indicators for any film. However, two pleasant leading performances and some decent gags make it a forgettable but occasionally fun venture, certainly better than the venomous critical reaction would suggest. Hugh Grant is in fine form and Sarah Jessica Parker is considerably less irksome than usual, and together they muster a pretty affable chemistry. The Morgans are actually protagonists the audience doesn't mind spending time with. Both have faults but each is a rather likable character, and the thespians portraying them find a decent amount of comic goodwill to exploit. Grant in particular uses his sarcastic barbs and acidic one liners with gusto, concocting several of the picture's best moments in the process.
The supporting cast isn't quite as consistent. Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen are fine in totally one dimensional roles (country folk with surprising degrees of emotional insight), but Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Jesse Liebman (making his debut here) are abysmal as the Morgans' individual private assistants. The film insists every so often in cutting away from Wyoming back to New York simply to have Liebman and Moss tool around in the blandest fashion possible, undermining some of the better material surrounding the main characters. It's a broad and badly conceived addition to this otherwise amusing tale.
The screenplay by Marc Lawrence boasts an obvious story but some fairly competent jokes. The fish out of water scenario presented here is hardly new, but when injected with a reasonable measure of funniness, it becomes serviceable enough. The character arcs are simplistic but effective within the confines of the leisurely plot, and the whole project imposes a very good natured vibe. Did You Hear About the Morgans? is a surprisingly clean and family friendly movie, almost to the degree that the PG-13 rating seems a little harsh. The film mines bloodless bear encounters and horse riding mishaps for the majority of its slapstick humor, rarely moving into the leerier and more sexually charged comic waters so many rom-coms now seem to inhabit. Those expecting anything edgy or particularly inventive will probably be disappointed with Marc Lawrence's film, but if you're just watching for some pithy dialogue and well-intentioned shenanigans, I imagine you'll be happy enough.
The film comes slightly undone by a wildly formulaic and colorless finish, almost trying to milk some tension in a rather laughable manner. The last few gags are also among the project's weakest, leaving a considerably more sour taste in the mouth than the rest of the feature. The depiction of country life has attracted some annoyance, and it is admittedly stereotypical, but not in an offensive way. Lawrence gives small town life a gentle ribbing but also highlights many of its benefits.
The film captures its setting beautifully and supplies some unusually sharp cinematography. The DVD courtesy of Sony manipulates this for a nicely sculpted video presentation. Theodore Shapiro's conventional score means that the audio has less to work with, but the dialogue and music are finely balanced and easy to hear. The DVD comes with a selection of making-of material presented mostly through short and punchy featurettes. The best of these are probably the 18 minute "Location, Location, Location!" and the 13 minute "International Special," which essentially say the same thing but at least do it with some depth. A featurette on the animal star of the show, Bart the bear, is also rather amusing, as the poor creature is made out to be the biggest diva on set. There is also a selection of outtakes and deleted scenes along with a diverting commentary with Lawrence, Grant, and Parker. The three do seem to get along splendidly, and whilst their discussion is light on filmmaking critique, it does offer some interesting onset stories including talk of an influential visit from Bill Murray. Overall this is a credible video package for a film that got more abuse than it warranted.
This is an undeniably fluffy and insubstantial film, but at the same time it has two solid leading performances and some modestly enjoyable comic material. Its storyline and presentation of country life is somewhat hackneyed, but overall Did You Hear About the Morgans? really isn't that bad. I think it would make a perfectly adequate rental.
I'm edging toward a not guilty verdict on this one.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes