Friday, December 18, 2009

Did You Hear About the Morgans?


Witness relocation could be the cure for a wounded marriage in the romantic comedy DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker star as the separated New York City power couple Paul and Meryl Morgan. Paul's infidelity fractured the relationship, but after months apart he is eager to patch things up. Meryl still isn't convinced the marriage is worth saving.

During a post-dinner walk the two see one of her clients murdered. The dead man was an international arms dealer bumped off by a professional killer now seeking to eliminate those who can identify him. With their lives in jeopardy, Paul and Meryl have no choice but to accept an offer to go into witness protection and be shuttled to the sleepy burg of Ray, Wyoming.

The folksy sheriff Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott) and his deputy wife Emma (Mary Steenburgen) welcome the displaced duo into their home and function as a model couple for the Morgans. Removed from the bustling careers and personal lives they know, Paul and Meryl can now figure out if love remains between them.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? deploys the familiar and unfortunate strategy of making its New Yorkers outlandishly insular and heartland characters simple and virtuous. Such stereotyping is offered in a prostrate appeal to a perceived lumpen middle America that wants to see city slickers taken down several pegs.

In fairness, the overdone exaggerations eventually become less of a factor in the film's humor and are not condescending, unlike the 2009 Renée Zellweger film NEW IN TOWN, which bordered on the offensive in portraying common folks. Still, Hollywood's broad conceptualizing of urban and rural areas seems stuck in the 1930s.

On the plus side for DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS?, writer-director Marc Lawrence works toward reconciling the main characters rather than having them at each others' throats before the inevitable eleventh hour change of heart. Romantic comedy filmmakers have become so focused on using jokes to tear lovers apart that they lose sight of the mushy sentiment that comprises half of the genre's name.

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? strives to reignite the extinguished flame between the separated husband and wife and achieves flickers of success. The mediocre material gets a boost from a hardworking Grant, who uses his trademark bumbling formality to deliver dry commentary and wring out the most laughs possible. DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? shows the strain of its screenplay shortcomings and buckles under them, but at least that's preferable to the romantic comedies full of spite.

Grade: C

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