★★ / ★★★★
Suddenly struck by the death of their two-year-old son, Michael (Andrew Ramaglia) and Sara (Emily Cline) have a decision to make: to stay together or to walk away with their losses. It is not as if the possibility of a separation is a complete surprise—not to us anyway. Sara feels her husband does not care about her aspirations of becoming a nurse and helping to build a better life for their family. Meanwhile, Michael is difficult to read; he seems to be the type to live his every day in his head—a toxic quality when open line of communication is essential.
Written and directed by Joe Mitacek, “Morning” is not afraid to embrace the darkness of what it might be like to walk in the shoes of grieving parents. The first third of the picture is fascinating in that the screenplay avoids to explain anything. It simply shows a life that is—a relationship at a critical tipping point where small things said or done are all the more amplified. It is a drama in its rawest—uncompromising, unblinking.
But the material loses a lot of its emotional power just beyond the halfway point. With the exception of one scene in the latter half, the events that occur are nothing particularly memorable or special. One can argue that perhaps that is the point: Sara or Michael—or both—is tired of having to mend the pieces and then the effort amounting to nothing the day after. I found it repetitive and dull. By the third of fourth time Sara goes to see an ex-boyfriend from college (Ryan Cooper) and Michael turns to yet another bottle of beer, the point is already made clear: they both lack a healthy coping mechanism—not in terms of grieving over the loss of their son (because I do not believe there is a “proper” way to cope after a death of a loved one). I refer to the crumbling marriage.
Though the two are linked, some aspects of the anger and frustration are separate. The death, in a way, is a catalyst and I was not convinced the screenplay has probed enough. What is it about this relationship that is worth salvaging? Why should we care?
There is one scene I found to be exceptional. Staying at a friend’s house over the weekend, Michael and Sara go to the backyard that overlooks a lake or pond. It stands out because we finally get to hear them laugh. After all the doom and gloom, the very sound of laughter pushes away the dark clouds effortlessly—even for only a moment—and we see a glimpse of why Sara and Michael decided to get married in the first place. Many movies about couples or romantic relationships lack a subtle scene where we recognize—for ourselves sans music or cheesiness or awkwardness—the truth of what makes a specific relationship worth watching. I hoped that such a level of freshness drove the whole picture forward.
“Morning” has good, introspective, body language-driven performances but with occasional lines of dialogue that just miss the mark in terms of delivery. Still, I admired that the writer-director ends the story without tying everything up in a neat bow. Imagine a ball being tossed into the air—fade to black. We are not shown what will happen next but life experience proves that we are likely to have an idea.