After 3 months of separation, lawyer Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant, "Two Weeks Notice," "Music and Lyrics") is determined to woo back his hot-shot NYC real estate broker wife Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker, "The Family Stone," "Sex and the City") and wears her down for dinner, but when he walks her to her late night appointment with a client, they arrive just in time to see his murderer (Michael Kelly, "Changeling," "Law Abiding Citizen"), and, worse yet, he them. The next morning the duo are nowhere to be found when Paul's assistant Adam (Jesse Liebman) asks Meryl's assistant Jackie (Elisabeth Moss, AMC's "Mad Men") "Did You Hear About the Morgans?"
Writer/director Marc Lawrence hooks back up with his "Two Weeks Notice" and "Music and Lyrics" star Grant and turns out yet another fine romantic comedy. Sure, "Morgans" and his prior work are not ground-breaking nor are their story arcs surprising, but he has assembled a fine cast and steers clear of pratfalls and golf balls to the crotch. Lawrence clearly has a talent for the genre if he can write a story that includes a murder, not one but two bear attacks, liberal city slickers in Republican hicksville and a climax at a rodeo and make the whole thing feel unforced.
After contract killer Vincent manages to get Meryl in his sights less than 12 hours after she's put under police protection, U.S. Marshal Lasky (Seth Gilliam, "Jefferson in Paris," HBO's "The Wire") 'discusses' the need to put the couple into a witness protection program. Learning of their marital discord, Lasky promises their initial site will be temporary, until separate locations can be arranged. They arrive, shell shocked, in Ray, Wyoming, with inappropriate clothing and are met by their host U.S. Marshal Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott, "The Golden Compass," "Up in the Air") who takes them to Cody's Bargain Barn, a big box store that enamors them both with its amazing prices. But Ray is 45 minutes away and their hostess, Deputy Marshal Emma Wheeler (Mary Steenburgen, "Four Christmases," "The Proposal"), is revealed to be the woman buying rifles inside. Of course, Meryl is a card carrying PETA member and vegetarian while Paul is alarmed by posted grizzly bear warnings.
Nothing unexpected happens. Enforced cohabitation proves to be a good thing for the couple, as does the long term marriage of the Wheelers. Run-ins with townies pull them together, but eventually not only friendships, but the Wheelers' careers bloom. Lawrence is careful to tie up any loopholes about communication back to the big city (phone and Internet from the Wheeler household requires the use of a code), while also being smart about how the one indiscretion is made. The filmmaker's only over-indulgence is a shot of the Wheelers' refrigerator as opened by Meryl, containing as much raw meat as a small town butcher shop. Lawrence lets the cause of the couple's problems unfold gradually - it's clear immediately that Paul cheated, but the reasons are deeper than that - infertility/infidelity as Paul so aptly puts it, and there's some nicely written dialogue where Meryl confronts Paul about the other woman. You really want to see this couple come through to the other side.
Grant was teamed with romantic comedy pros Sandra Bullock and Drew Barrymore in his last two films with Lawrence and Sarah Jessica Parker fares well as someone less quirky, more grounded and successful than those two (although, yes, it must be stated that these NYC uber-professionals living in incredible spaces with everything money can buy gets a bit tired). Grant and Parker are both a bit long in tooth to be contemplated at the baby making stage, but he's sincere and droll and she proves game for life's big adventures. Elliott is typically charming (there's a nice milking scene where Parker looks for advice and is astonished to hear he's familiar with "Men Are from Mars") and Steenburgen nicely underplays her Western woman. As townspeople, Kim Shaw (the Valentine's Day waitress in "Sex and the City") is amusing as the ditzy doctor's receptionist/cafe waitress/deputy fire marshal (shades of "Local Hero," the movie that keeps on giving) and Wilford Brimley ("The China Syndrome," "The Natural") is the crusty cafe owner who believes the granddaughter, Lucy (Gracie Bea Lawrence, "Phoebe in Wonderland"), in his care is the next American Idol. The only false note from the cast comes from the bickering rivalry of Liebman's milquetoast Adam and Moss's bossy Jackie.
The filmmakers accentuate the natural juxtaposition of NYC skyscrapers with Wyoming's wide open sky and stars (which Paul had been busy trying to 'buy' for Meryl back in the city) and crowded streets with long, lonely roads. Music isn't the typical, featuring such gems as The Allman Brothers' ""Midnight Rider," Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me," George Harrison's cover of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." Costume segues between formal high style (Meryl's packing, destination unknown, is humorously, and silently commented upon by "Palindromes'" Sharon Wilkins, as U.S. Marshal King) to Bargain Barn comfort.
"Did You Hear About the Morgans?" isn't the greatest thing since sliced bread and the conspicuous consumption on display in the city is uncomfortably close to "Sex and the City," but Grant and Parker make getting sprayed in the face with bear repellant so much more naturalistic and funny than anything in Bullock's latest two romcoms and Lawrence never lets plot devices swamp characterization. It's a solid entry in a genre much abused of late.
Robin did not see this film.
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