The premise of romantic comedy "Did You Hear What Happened to the Morgans?" shows great promise but the direction and the performances of the two leads don’t show it much love.
Director Marc Lawrence wrote a story about an estranged couple, Paul (Hugh Grant), a lawyer and Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), a real estate agent, working through the issues – his infidelity – that prompted their separation. He’s puppy dog remorseful, she’s indifferent which here is worse than being mad. After he pays a guerilla visit to one of her lectures, they witness the murder of one of her clients. The murderer witnesses their witnessing, and the authorities trundle them off into a protection program in Ray, Wyoming. Here, without bagels, neon, taxis, and other urban landmarks, they are thrown together into an alien lifestyle that requires sudden, severe acclimation but provides some opportunities for prairie therapy.
Meryl is a neurotic, cultured, and successful alpha female. Like Woody Allen she’s woven into the Gotham fabric and so, when she’s thrown into the middle of the nowhere that is Ray, Wyoming, her vegetarian, Democratic, pro-PETA, anti-gun, positions don’t exactly play well. But Parker’s performance is thoroughly off-putting. She’s not manic, she’s shrill. She doesn’t project, she tweets. She doesn’t connect with Paul, not because of scripted emotional distance but because Lawrence chose not to rein the filly in.
If Parker is an island of Manhattan unto herself, Grant is the English equivalent of a slack jawed yokel. For someone who used to be billed as the next Cary Grant he’s become a horrible caricature of disheveled suaveness. His contrition is unconvincing and annoying. When you contrast his pastiness against the real men vigor of Wyoming it’s not cutely hapless, it’s pathetic. It’s hard to tell if Grant looks out of his element because he’s been transplanted to a place without crumpets or because he can’t quite believe that he’s acting in such a piece of unmitigated drivel.
If the movie could claim a shred of redemption, it would be via the acting of the two supporting couples, each of which make the undynamic duo of Parker and Grant all the more paltry. Jackie Drake (Elisabeth Moss) and Adam Feller (Jesse Liebman) are the personal assistants of Meryl and Paul. Inspired casting would have put them into the two lead roles: they’re both sharp, funny, and, most important, motivated. Unlike Parker and Grant, they seem to want to be there. Clay Wheeler (Sam Elliott) and Emma (Mary Steenburgen) are the caretakers of Parker and Grant. Their performances are strong; they are funny and serious when appropriate, and sometimes without trying.
Besides failing to coax humor out of scenes that were meant to be funny - an errant bear; target practice; horseback riding - Lawrence was in dire need of a metronome here. His sense of timing was erratic. He gave weight to things better left merely alluded to. For instance, Meryl and Paul are finally having a serious talk, away from cell phones, email, and sirens, under a magnificent starry sky. It drones on forever. As do the bedtime scenes when Paul loiters in the living room where Meryl sleeps on a couch and their too-many jogging scenes. For that matter, so did that soporific drive to Ray from the airport. Perhaps it’s because Lawrence had to continuously adjust the treadmill paces of a New York and a Wyoming lifestyle. Be that as it may, he did so with a heavy hand, which ruined any moments otherwise magically promised. And it demolished the build up to the little secret Meryl had been carrying all alone.
In spite of the misdirected and, for the most part mis-acted cock ups, the idea behind the film – that sometimes love needs to decant in the wide open spaces – offers a slew of potentially funny and endearing scenes. Just not here, with this director and these two leads.