Hollywood has long been accused of having run out of ideas. This accusation gains credence with films like Did You Hear About the Morgans?, a new romantic comedy pairing Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, which doesn’t have its own ideas as much as it takes a lot of existing ideas and smooshes them together into one undrinkable blend. Through all this, Hugh Grant remains painfully likable, but his charm is wearing thin, and projects like these lower his stock even further.
Due to an infidelity, Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) has separated from his wife Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), though he remains hopeful that the two can still work it out. One night, they have dinner together and resolve to try counseling, but are waylaid when they witness the murder of an arms dealer by a professional hitman. When the hitman decides to go after them, the FBI relocates the New Yorker couple to Ray, Wyoming. There, they stay in the care of the town’s folksy sheriff. The quieter lifestyle gives them a chance to work out some issues, but the killer hasn’t given up on finding them yet.
The film is a combination of several different films. It’s a movie about a couple trying to rekindle their relationship. It’s also a fish-out-of-water tale, with these crazy, liberal New Yorkers trapped in a folksy, gee-whiz Republican corner of the States. It’s also kind of a thriller, occasionally cutting back to the hitman following the breadcrumbs to their location. All that, and it’s supposed to be a comedy. None of it particularly works. As a romance, there’s little spark between the characters. The fish-out-of-water tale works on easy stereotypes: New Yorkers are liberal vegetarians, while small town folk like to shoot guns and have animals in their homes. As for the chase, it’s stretched out way too much and the stakes are too low for anyone to really care about it. Beyond the three archetypes, the movie just keeps throwing subplots that take away from what little main story there already is.
As for the comedy, there isn’t much there either. The movie doesn’t have much of a comedic voice, relying mostly on Hugh Grant doing his Hugh Grant thing. Which is to say, self-deprecation followed by one liners followed by pained expressions. Occasionally he’ll get hit in the face with something or face down a bear, but the pattern remains the same. It doesn’t feel like they’re even trying anymore, the entire movie playing out exactly the way you’d imagine it. You could save some time by closing your eyes and imagining how this all turns out. Do they get together in the end? Does the killer find them? Does the folksy sheriff provide some folksy wisdom? You know the answers. Chances are, you’re funnier, too.
The entire movie is a pretty big waste of a great cast. I submit that Hugh Grant remains one of the most charming performers in movies today, and that helps some. But as I said, it’s degenerated to shtick now, and there’s little to praise when you’re just going through the motions. Sarah Jessica Parker has the same quality to her, that general ease on screen. But the movie doesn’t really do much with her either. Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen are pretty terrific in general, but they’re playing cartoons.
The most painful moments of Did You Hear About the Morgans? involve its plethora of awful one liners. Hugh Grant will do his Hugh Grant thing, delivering a one liner with the same aplomb that he’s provided in years of films. And he’ll wince, and then let the movie pause for laughs. The pain comes when the laughter doesn’t rise above a polite titter, and Hugh Grant is left on screen with a pained expression on his face. It’s like he knows it, too. The man deserves better material.