Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009). What a shittily shitty piece of absolute shite. I could stop there, but I want to say a few words about the film that could have been, the film that might have been a tad better than the one I watched (until I could watch no more, I stopped with about 20 minutes left).
Quick synopsis: Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) and Meryl Morgan (Sarah Jessica Parker) are husband and wife undergoing a painful separation. He is a lawyer, she is the head of a real estate firm. They have butt-loads of money. Paul wants Meryl back and talks her into a date. Going neither poorly nor well, the date ends uneventfully. But as they say their goodnights, the two witness the murder (holy cow!) of a would-be client of Meryl’s. Having seen the victim, knife in back (really? a knife?), plummet to the sidewalk in front of them, Paul and Meryl look up to the balcony from which the victim fell and there they catch a glimpse of the murderer (who has a scar on his face!). Fearing the murderer will in turn spot them, Paul grabs Meryl and together the two hide behind a truck that happens to be parked in the street near where the victim fell. Get this, the truck suddenly pulls away! That’s right, the driver didn’t see the body land right in front of the truck, nor did the driver hear the body hit the pavement, or Meryl’s rather audible gasp. So, as the truck has pulled away, Paul and Meryl’s cover is blown and the murderer, looking down from the balcony above, spots them. Convincing? Hell yes!
After an attempt on Meryl’s life the following day, a federal Marshal (Seth Gilliam, in a waste of a role) decides it is for their own personal safety that Paul and Meryl live together in some remote location as Paul and Meryl Foster from Chicago, under the witness protection program. Problem is, they are separated, and heading swiftly toward divorce. How can they possibly keep up the charade of being Meryl and Paul Foster? Now, why they are separated isn’t exactly clear. One reason we’re given is that Meryl was once, like, totally in love with Paul, but now she is just…(pause)… disappointed. I applaud Marc Lawrence (who wrote and directed) for earnestly and purposefully engaging with the inexorable mysteries of love, desire, and human relationships.
Actually, the film is rather blunt in delivering its moral imperative: if you don’t have a child, then your marriage is a failure, you have no future, and your life is meaningless.
The scenes in Ray, Wyoming, where Meryl and Paul are relocated, are painful to watch. So devoid of humor, character, and charm. Mary Steenburgen’s character repulsed me, and I feel ashamed for Sam Elliott. The latter is a local Marshal, the former is his gun-lovin, Palin-aping wife (the two, named Clay and Emma Wheeler, are charged with the care of Meryl and Paul). Hugh Grant has never been more irritating. I get the sense that Lawrence didn’t have the gumption or the good sense to ask Hugh Grant to stop doing a perfect imitation of Hugh Grant. The jokes are bad, the story is lame. The film even squanders a potentially funny scene with a large brown bear.
I mentioned earlier that there is a good film in here somewhere, or at least a better one. My re-write would go something like this: play up the romance between Adam Feller (Jesse Liebman) and Jackie Drake (the always marvelous, always beautiful Elisabeth Moss). The two are Paul and Meryl’s respective assistants who, back in Manhattan, are trying desperately to put up good fronts when business is far from usual. Indeed, I had hoped the film would turn in this direction–cutting back and forth between Manhattan and Wyoming, as one couple fashions a romance while the other wises up. The repulsiveness of the Meryl/Paul coupling should be put to good use. The way I see it, why not use it to direct our allegiance to the younger couple, who seem concerned only with the present? As we learn of the regrets, the mistakes, the failures of the older couple, we can then, in turn, find in the younger couple the promise of a different sort of romance, one not so hell-bent on assigning itself to what Lee Edelman calls “reproductive futurity.” In so doing, we could find something redemptive–even sweet–in the Meryl/Paul coupling and perhaps not mind too terribly if, yes, it is indeed “over.”
Instead, we have to spend all of our time with Meryl and Paul as they do things like sit at a table in a restaurant (cue stock “small-town” joke: “The people in Ray say it’s the only place to eat. Literally!”) and wondering who you hate more, the New York exiles or the Ray, Wyoming locals (including Wilford Brimley to whom, even after he shows a softer side, I wanted to take a baseball bat). The film, it seems, wants us to warm up immediately to the folks in Ray. But I couldn’t believe in any of them. At one point, the local doctor offers to let Meryl and Paul take his truck home: “Hey, it’s no problem. I don’t need it until tomorrow, and the keys are in the ignition. We folks in Ray always do that, in case someone needs a lift. What, you folks in the city don’t leave your cars unlocked with the keys in ’em?” I suppose the only accuracy in this film’s depiction of Wyoming is that the town of Ray seems to be about 94% white.
So many wasted opportunities, such as when Clay and Emma first show Meryl and Paul around the home. The two New Yorkers are desperate to connect with home, but the internet connection has a code, as does the phone. When Clay says “over there you’ll find clean sheets and towels,” Paul responds, “is there a code?” Now, only one of two things should happen next. Either Clay and Emma get the joke and burst into laughter (as they should–the way we are asked to understand their characters we assume there is no way Clay and Emma wouldn’t laugh) or one of them says “yes” and then, after a nervous silence from Meryl and Paul, says “just kidding.” Instead, Clay and Emma stand there like idiots (which clearly they are not) not getting the joke. The point is that Meryl and Paul should be surprised at every turn by Clay and Emma’s grace, kindness, and good humor. But no. Clay and Emma are as empty as tin cans in a rifle range.
This film is shit. I’m done. Don’t watch.