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Did You Hear About the Morgans? DVD Review

Did You Hear About the Morgans? movie poster Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Theatrical Release: December 18, 2009 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Writer/Director: Marc Lawrence

Cast: Hugh Grant (Paul Morgan), Sarah Jessica Parker (Meryl Morgan), Sam Elliott (U.S. Marshal Clay Wheeler), Mary Steenburgen (Deputy Emma Wheeler), Elisabeth Moss (Jackie Drake), Michael Kelly (Vincent), Wilford Brimley (Earl Granger), Jesse Liebman (Adam Feller), David Call (Doc D. Simmons), Kim Shaw (Nurse Kelly Corman), Seth Gilliam (U.S. Marshal Lasky), Kevin Brown (U.S. Marshal Henderson), Steven Boyer (U.S. Marshal Ferber), Gracie Bea Lawrence (Lucy Granger)

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Did anyone notice that Hugh Grant went almost three years without making a movie? I recall learning that in an article around last Christmas, so I guess the author and other readers may have been aware. I question whether Grant's staggered career and fan following are enough for that to have been news.
In any event, the intent of that hiatus could not have been reinvention. The charismatic British actor's latest film, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, is much like some of his better-known star vehicles, an American romantic comedy. Morgans actually marks Grant's third film in that mold for writer/director Marc Lawrence, following Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics.

Here, Grant plays Paul Morgan, a fussy expatriate Manhattan lawyer who is separated from his wife, Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), a successful real estate agent. Paul is looking to reconcile, but Meryl has reservations. On a walk after a dinner meant to start making amends, the couple winds up witnessing a murder. When the killer comes looking for them the very next day, the authorities decide it's best to enter the Morgans into the witness relocation program. They agree, career-driven Meryl quite reluctantly.

Did you hear about the Morgans? Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Paul (Hugh Grant) are a separated New York couple who witness a murder. They're put into the witness protection program and welcomed into the deer-decorated Wyoming home of Emma (Mary Steenburgen) and Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott).

Given the surname Foster, Paul and Meryl end up in the small town of Ray, Wyoming. They're hosted by the Wheelers, an older couple who have been doing this thing for years. Clay (Sam Elliott) and Emma (Mary Steenburgen) couldn't be much more different than their city slicker guests. For that matter, Ray couldn't be further from New York City. Paul and Meryl must adapt to small-town living, where giant retail outlets sell sweaters 2 for $10 and the one simple nurse also waitresses at night. Their temporary new home has four deer heads on a wall and no cable (leaving the Wheelers' collection of Clint Eastwood DVDs to get played).

This type of culture shock comedy is so familiar and hackneyed that the film doesn't even bother to play it for laughs. There are surprisingly few jokes about the change of pace. In fact, rather than offer formula amusement, Morgans invests in the possibility of Paul and Meryl reuniting (as if there's any doubt). She can't bring herself to forgive his adulterous transgression. Meanwhile, she harbors a comparable secret. This continues, as they take in scenery on shared neighborhood jogs and target practice with the Wheelers.

There are some giggles along the way. But the biggest laughs are at the film's expense. One wonders who could take this storyline at face value. These two are the only witnesses to a random fatal public stabbing? And then, rather than keep laying low, the unknown culprit himself would then travel to Wyoming to off them? (You know it's coming.) And yet, after learning their whereabouts, this cold-blooded killer has the decency to allow time for the standard romcom warming to occur? But then he's in such a rush that he'll git-r-done at a crowded rodeo? I feel guilty for even trying to make sense of this preposterous plot, but there isn't much else to do with this.

Paul (Hugh Grant) and Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker) attempt to adapt to quiet, small-town living, complete with fresh air jogs. He still is the walrus. Wilford Brimley steps out of presumed acting retirement to portray grumpy God-fearing geezer Earl Granger, the owner of local hot spot Annette's Cafe.

While easily watchable, the movie is almost shockingly lackluster in its execution. The actors don't muster up any energy to help sell the shenanigans. Grant does his signature stammering, Parker her characteristic protesting. Mary Steenburgen, who has come to embrace playing the "older generation" in this sort of thing, shows little of the excitement she brought to The Proposal, which this film virtually remakes.
Perhaps the most interesting thing is that a supporting role is played by Wilford Brimley. The diabetes/oatmeal spokesman and lone surviving Cocoon old-timer (a label he prematurely held 25 years ago, at age 50) earns his first film credit in six years and first that anyone's heard of since 1997's In & Out. He doesn't get to do a whole lot as a rigid restaurateur, but it's nice to see him and his white walrus mustache still in good spirits.

Oddly timed to compete with tall blue aliens, singing chipmunks, and Victorian sleuths, not many people seemed to hear (or care) about the Morgans. Tempering a weak opening with some unexpectedly able legs, the film now sees its North American gross just shy of $30 million. That's only about half the reported budget and weak by the stars' and genre standards. For his part, Grant seems determined to prove that acting really is a pastime and not his true calling. His IMDb page is completely void of upcoming projects. (Although there are rumors connecting him to a My Fair Lady remake written by Emma Thompson and directed by Shakespeare in Love's John Madden...)

Buy Did You Hear About the Morgans? DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 16, 2010
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $28.95
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

On DVD, Did You Hear About the Morgans? appears exclusively in its 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. The film looks quite nice. It is a bit soft, but clean, consistent, and vibrant. The front-oriented Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is also just fine. It is relatively quiet, save for sampled songs, which include two by the Allman Brothers and others in line with the film's late-Baby Boomer sensibilities.

Writer-director Marc Lawrence displays his allegiance to the Mets and the Beatles in his "Location, Location, Location" interview. Fashionably-bespectacled costume designer Christopher Peterson discusses his work in "Park Avenue Meets the Prairie." "A Bear of a Scene" takes us inside the filming of Hugh Grant's scene with a big brown bear.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Did You Hear About the Morgans? is surprisingly sort of loaded with bonus features.

First up is an audio commentary by writer/director Marc Lawrence alongside stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. It's rare to get stars of this caliber supplying commentary and their presence makes this track more noteworthy than most. It helps that the three make no pretense of the film being marvelous; the discussion is self-deprecating and sarcastic in a good-natured way. A slew of small special effects and continuity errors are pointed out. The speakers test and tease each other at recalling extras' names. Parker makes many observations about her costumes. We learn about Parker and Grant's big London meeting, which they tricked the production into believing was disastrous.
Interestingly, the trio mentions a lot of genuinely disastrous deleted scenes, which aren't preserved here on the DVD, and a New York set visit from Bill Murray (also absent, despite promises to the contrary).

"Location, Location, Location!" (18:10) is a solid making-of featurette. After Lawrence reveals his inspiration, we learn the town of Roy, New Mexico was chosen to represent the fictional Ray, Wyoming. Cast and crew discuss their experiences in the small-town southwest.

"Cowboys and Cosmopolitans: The Stars of Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (8:05) gathers actor comments about one another in between good B-roll footage. Would ya believe it, everyone has nice things to say about their co-stars?

As fluffy but less fun is "Park Avenue Meets the Prairie: The Fashions of Did You Hear About the Morgans?" (5:00), in which Christopher Peterson speaks excitedly about the costume design processes for the film's four leads.

Naturally, "A Bear of a Scene" (5:20) takes us behind the scenes of Hugh Grant's inevitable close encounter of the scripted kind with a bear.

Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker) explains her marital status to an adoption counselor (otherwise-cut Dana Ivey) in this 4-minute, two-part deleted scene. The cameras keep rolling, even though everyone but Sam Elliott has been laughing throughout the entire scene, making for an extended and unusually entertaining Outtakes reel. The "Fosters"' target practice lesson with the Wheelers plays above a western landscape on the DVD's main menu.

Next come two Deleted Scenes (4:25). The long first one follows Meryl up an elevator with smelly movers to an adoption meeting in which she exposits her complicated marital status. The short second one merely shows Hugh Grant sinking an impressive putt in his bathroom.

A reel of Outtakes (6:40) amuses not only with the usual goofs but a 4-minute long uninterrupted take showing the four leads fighting giggles through an entire scene.

An "International Special" (13:40) gives us another standard promotional making-of piece, much of it repeated from "Location, Location, Location!" and some from "A Bear of a Scene." There are a very few unique bits on supporting players, but since it's listed last, you're apt to have already encountered the bulk of this.

Finally, "Previews" serves up full trailers for Dear John, The Young Victoria, Grown Ups, The Bounty Hunter, and Hachi: A Dog's Tale, plus a 30-second spot for An Education. The first four play automatically at disc insertion, along with a preview for CBS Films' The Back-up Plan, which isn't menu-accessible.

The DVD's fine main menu runs routine montage over New York skyline and midwestern mountains. It's the only menu that's scored and animated.

Paul and Meryl discover one of the joys of their middle-of-nowhere location: shopping at all-purpose giant retail outlets. You didn't think this movie would spare its leads the obligatory cowboy hat scene, did you? Meryl seizes the rodeo dance as a chance to confess something to Paul.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Did You Hear About the Morgans? is an old-fashioned fish-out-of-water romantic comedy that relocates a conflicted cosmopolitan couple to the quiet world of small-town Wyoming. It's not fresh or very funny and it pales in comparison to most of the previous efforts of the stars and writer-director Marc Lawrence. Still, it's pretty inoffensive as far as formulaic entertainment goes and, for some people, that may be enough.

With an enjoyable audio commentary and an hour of video bonus features, Sony's DVD goes quite beyond the standard romcom supplements slate. Not all of it is riveting, but those who enjoy the movie won't mind seeing it. Unfortunately, not many viewers will find themselves in that class.

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Reviewed March 15, 2010.



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