Did You Hear About the Morgans? (US - BD RA)
Gabe would be a much happier man had he not heard about the Morgans...
All star real estate agent Meryl Morgan (Sarah Jessica Parker) and top lawyer Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) were once a happy New York couple on their way to adopting their first child. Then Paul had an affair, and the couple were separated. Paul desperately tries to reconnect with Meryl though endless phone calls and gifts, and his efforts finally result in a reasonably civil dinner. While arguing on the long walk home the ex-couple witness a murder, and are pursued by a ruthless contract killer. FBI witness protection sends Meryl and Paul to Ray, Wyoming, where they’re left under the protection of the Wheelers (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen), and forced to deal with their marital problems.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? is exactly what everyone is expecting from writer/director Marc Lawrence, and stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant—a formulaic romantic comedy aimed at indifferent weekend date audiences aiming to watch anything on the night after a nice dinner out. One can almost envision Lawrence’s checklist while watching the film:
1. Find one ‘high concept’ element to build your script around, then keep things as formless and derivative as possible. Check. The witness protection angle is, I believe, somewhat original to the romantic comedy genre, but the romantic problems, like city folk dealing with the country bumpkins, is so old hat it might as well be a Abe Lincoln style stove top.
2. Spike the basic, dry comedy with a handful of wacky, slapstick set pieces that do nothing to define the characters or plot. Check. The Morgans take on a bear, learn to shoot, and end the film at a rodeo, and tonally all these scenes feel like they were written and directed by a different person.
3. Hire actors to play the same characters they always play? Check. Sarah Jessica Parker plays a slightly stuffy, but generally likeable New York professional. Hugh Grant plays a nebbish, stuttering, neurotic Englishman out of place in all facets of Americana.
4. Include an older, wiser couple with anachronistic values who bring the main characters together in the end. Check. This is kind of an offshoot of point three, as Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen are both typecast in these roles, and scores extra points for fulfilling the another trope in the form of Elliot’s ‘advice scene’, where he finally breaks his silence.
5. Include a sub-plot with characters that inevitably mirror the romantic interactions of the lead and fall in love as well? Check. The subplot is actually the part of the film that works, thanks in no small part to Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss, who pulls off lovably demanding like a real champion. I’d rather she played the lead in future mindless rom-coms, actually. At least her presence demands some kind of attention.
6. Tack-on a dance scene at the top of the third act? Check. And Lawrence gets extra credit for ham-fistedly cramming the lead character’s verbal crisis into the middle of the dance itself, and having the band call for a partner change at a convenient moment. I’m sure he thought it was a brilliant visual metaphor.
The predictable plotting leads to predictable jokes, jokes that would find themselves right at home in a predictable television sit-com (‘I can’t breathe, the air’s too clean!’). The lack of laugh track is actually funnier than the jokes themselves, as the silence following them (and there’s usually a few beats) seems to equate the awkward silence that follows a failed punch line on stage. One can almost see the crickets every time Grant belts out a half-hearted one-liner. Unassuming and dull the whole way round.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? follows the lead set by, you know, every single studio formula romantic comedy ever, and is shot using nice, bright, diffused light. Daytime and indoor shots are colourful enough, and generally quite clean. The darkest shots are a bit soft, and the blacks are a little on the blue side, but certainly aren’t grainy. The production juxtaposes the New York skyline and the Wyoming naturescape (actually New Mexico) quite a bit, and these luxurious long shots are pretty good looking, though there are some minor issues with consistent clarity. Most of the New York shots are very nice, but there are a handful of flat, noisy, and/or edge-enhanced bits here and there. The nature stuff is relatively solid, almost comparable with those BBC nature documentaries. The general colour schemes are also divided between the city and the country. New York is cool and blue, Wyoming is warm and colourful. The colour design utilized during the well lit interior shots are bright, sharp, and varied, which makes up for the relative blasé of the New York stuff. The green screen work is pretty dreadful—the mattes are sloppy and the colouring is constantly off (again, too blue)—and the high definition quality doesn’t help. Overall this is actually a very impressive transfer despite the film’s less than impressive visual output.
This is one of the quietest films I’ve watched in a long while. Like really quiet. Like if it wasn’t for the occasional musical interlude (all predictable, of course) and dialogue this would be a silent film. There’s something to be said for the silence during the Wyoming scenes in comparison to the New York scenes (juxtaposition), but there isn’t a lot of city bustle or natural buzz to speak of. The effects we do get are almost exclusively centric, including stuff that would normally have a small directional effect on even the cheapest flick, like front to back gun shots and charging bears. The climactic rodeo scene features more aggressive score, a bit of thumping LFE, and does have some stereo channel crowd noise, but the rear channels are pretty thin even in the thick of the action.
The extras begin with a commentary featuring director Marc Lawrence and actors Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. The tone is friendly, a little awkward, and the participants aren’t particularly prepared, but fill the bulk of the time with information. Lawrence is so proud of his ‘invisible’ effects it pains me to point out how bad the digital work is. It’s a pleasant enough track, but not terribly focused. Those on the lookout for hard behind the scenes info and factoids can turn on the Movie IQ mode, which is dry but effective.
‘Location, Location, Location’ (18:10, HD) is, despite the title, a basic EPK, not just a look at location shooting. Subject matter includes the pre-production, casting, scripting, production design, location shooting in both environments, cow milking, and bullfighting. The tone is mega-fluffy, and there’s no real intent to peel back the skin of the production, but the featurette is well made. ‘Cowboys and Cosmopolitans’ (08:00, HD) is simply a different EPK, including different footage, with a greater focus on the actors. ‘Park Avenue Meets the Prairie’ (05:00, HD) covers the costume design, or more appropriately the collecting of expensive clothing. ‘A Bear of a Scene’ (05:20, HD) covers the filming of the big bear scene, which features Bart 2, who isn’t actually the son of the famous Bart (sad face).
The disc also features two deleted scenes (04:30, HD), despite mention of more during the commentary track, a painful outtakes reel (06:40, HD), an ‘International Special’ (13:50, HD), a sort of all-purpose recall of the other featurettes, and trailers for other Sony releases.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? is a predictable rom-com that gives predictable rom-coms a bad name. Even Sam Elliot and Elizabeth Moss can’t save this one. As someone that doesn’t usually go out of his way to watch these kinds of movies I recommend The Proposal, which is just as predictable, follows the first four items of this check list, but manages to entertain through, apparently, the sheer will of the actors. The Blu-ray looks and sounds fine, even if the high definition does the bad special effects no favours, and the sound design is quite sedated, and the extras are kind of entertaining, if not a little repetitive and fluffy.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 16th March 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English and French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio Descriptive Track
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director and Cast Commentary, Location, Location, Location, Cowboys and Cosmopolitans, Park Avenue Meets the Prairie, A Bear of a Scene, Deleted Scenes, International Special, Outtakes, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Marc Lawrence
Cast: Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Grant, Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen
Length: 103 minutes
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