In a year that has been a decidedly mixed bag at the movies, it’s been a particularly bad year for the romantic comedy. Any year that gives us both “The Ugly Truth” and “All About Steve” is in deep trouble. So let’s not make too many claims for DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? It’s not “When Harry Met Sally…” or “Love Actually.” What it turns out to be is a lightweight but entertaining comedy deftly performed by some old hands.
Writer-director Marc Lawrence, whose credits include “Two Weeks Notice” and “Music and Lyrics,” is reunited with his male lead in both films, Hugh Grant, the go-to guy in modern romantic comedy. Grant plays Paul Morgan, a Manhattan attorney who is separated from his wife Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker). She’s a hotshot realtor who kicked him out after he cheated on her. He’s been desperately trying to win her back and finally convinces her to go out to dinner with him.
This is the conventional plot dubbed “the comedy of remarriage” (see “The Awful Truth” and “The Philadelphia Story” – no, really, go see them) in which a once-happy couple rediscovers what made them a couple in the first place. Lawrence then adds another comedy staple, the “fish-out-of-water” plot, when Paul and Meryl witness a murder and the murderer sees them. They are placed in Witness Protection and flown out to Ray, Wyoming, where they will be guarded by husband and wife marshals Clay and Emma Wheeler (Sam Elliott and Mary Steenburgen). It will be a learning experience for everyone.
The bulk of the film alternates between Paul and Meryl facing each other and these two urbanites dealing with a rural reality where “downtown” consists of a block of stores. Indeed, the marshals live outside of town to get away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Ray. Much of the humor comes from the culture clash, whether it’s the fact that Meryl is vegetarian and Emma enjoys shooting her own food, or that they are liberal East Coasters in a town where the true patriots know exactly who the local Democrats are… all thirteen of them.
Lawrence is not a great visual stylist, and the writing is often at TV sitcom level (in the ‘80s he wrote for “Family Ties”) but that only means this is a film that won’t end up on ten best lists or get nominated for Oscars. Aided by his cast he again offers up a perfectly serviceable romantic comedy in which Paul and Meryl work out their issues and resolve the problems of the plot. Grant is an old hand at this and is clearly in his comfort zone while Parker, lately seen in “Sex In The City,” is fun in a role that owes little to Carrie Bradshaw.
Thus for those not looking for family films, Oscar contenders, or popcorn movies this season, “Did You Hear About The Morgans?” is one of two romantic comedies offering some moviegoing choice. This is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food and, as such, is most welcome.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.