Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 99, 2008)
Though best known for socially conscious dramas like 12 Angry Men and Network, Sidney Lumet branches into different areas at times. With 1986’s The Morning After, he went for an adult thriller with a somewhat tawdry side.
Faded actress and alcoholic Viveca Van Loren (Jane Fonda) wakes up on Thanksgiving morning in bed with a strange guy. It’s bad enough she doesn’t remember anything about the prior evening, but one thing makes it worse: the guy – who turns out to be controversial porn photographer Bobby Korshack (Geoffrey Scott) – is dead from a knife wound in his chest. To make things worse, Viveca doesn’t know if she killed Korshack or not.
Not exactly a person with a lot of intestinal fortitude, Viveca panics and flees. She tries to get out of town but finds all the flights out of LAX booked. Mishaps at the airport ensue, and to escape all this, she winds up in a clunker driven by laid-back – though casually racist – Turner Kendall (Jeff Bridges).
Viveca heads back to Korshack’s pad and tries to remove any traces of her presence there. She thinks she succeeds but freaks out when it looks like someone else was there during her cleaning session. She re-encounters Turner – who pops up unexpectedly at Korshack’s door – and the two of them bond over an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner.
Matters continue to get weird, however. The next morning, Viveca finds Korshack’s corpse in her closet – and once again conveniently runs into Turner when she flees and he finds her in the street. Viveca entrusts Turner with her dilemma, and the rest of the film follows the mystery as it continues to unfold.
Morning starts with a bang but quickly turns stale. To be sure, it comes with a great premise. The film plops us into Viveca’s shoes as we experience the frightening and unknown reality with her. We get no back story or preparation for Korshack’s demise. Instead, the movie begins in bed with Viveca and his corpse, so we have to piece things together at the same time she does this.
Unfortunately, after that big opening, the tale plods and fails to go much of anywhere. Part of the problem comes from Lumet’s apparent indifference toward the actual murder. He shows little interest in that side of things, so even when the movie actually attempts to advance the plot, it does so in a lukewarm manner. This is a weird murder mystery since it appears so unconcerned with those events.
Instead, Lumet wants to focus on the relationship between Viveca and Turner. The film thrusts these two unlikely lovers together and badly wants to develop their romance. And that’s how it come across: badly. The love affair always feels forced and doesn’t develop in a natural manner. Sure, some of that would really occur given the stressful way in which the partners unite, but I still think the flick treats the relationship like a plot point instead of anything believable.
The movie also doesn’t really know how it wants to develop its characters. Indeed, they’re more a collection of traits rather than actual personalities. Many of the choices make little sense. We see Turner’s casual racism through the film, but why? This doesn’t endear him to the audience, but it also doesn’t bring out anything notable in him. It’s not like he learns and grows; he’s still racist at the end, but he simply tries a little harder to be PC.
In the role of Turner, Bridges adopts an odd twang that doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I missed something, but I thought the film placed him as a California boy, not a southerner. It’s possible that point eluded me – it could be hard to pay much attention to this dull film – but if not, I can’t figure out that performance choice.
Or perhaps Bridges felt he needed some quirk to keep up with Fonda’s overwrought turn as Viveca. From start to finish, Fonda tears off hunks of scenery, puts a little salt on them, and them gobbles them right down. She takes her tips from the Norma Desmond school of acting and makes Viveca a relentlessly over the top personality. Some of that makes sense for a fading diva, but it remains too off-putting to succeed.
Morning also suffers from obvious red herrings, awkward editing and shifts in tone, and a terrible light jazz score. It might’ve survived all of those without Lumet’s determination to make a Lifetime channel romance. The flick’s inherent sappiness robs it of any tension and turns it into a turgid drag.