' ' Cinema Romantico: The Adjustment Bureau

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau

-"Are you angels?"
-"We've been called that. More like case officers."

I should preface this review by advising that I am in the significantly steep minority of people who found Danny Boyle's "A Life Less Ordinary" (1997), generally considered a stink bomb, to be a masterpiece. That film, as you might remember, featured two angels (Delroy Lindo & Holly Hunter) sent from heaven to ensure, by any means necessary, that Ewan McGregor's janitor and Cameron Diaz's spoiled rich girl fall in love. This is important because George Nolfi's much delayed and just (finally) released "The Adjustment Bureau", inspired by a Philip K. Dick short story, is what might have happened had "A Life Less Ordinary" been done completely straight.

Matt Damon is David Norris, a New York congressman running for Senate. Tragically, photos, as is often the case with politicians, surface of some sort of college prank gone wrong and he loses the election. Blimey. He enters a majestic and empty restroom to compose himself and recite his concession speech. Except it turns out the bathroom is not empty. A wedding crasher doubling as a ballerina, Elise (Emily Blunt, ravishing, due in no small part to the fact she's British and prone in the film to wearing tights and boots which is 3 for 3 on my checklist), has been hiding in a stall for reasons that perhaps you will have to be a neurotic to understand. She exits. They fall into a conversation. They fall for each other. They kiss. David then gives perhaps the greatest concession speech of all time. A few years pass and David improbably meets cute a second time with Elise on a city bus. They fall into conversation again. They fall for each other again. This time Elise presents her phone # to David.

"I think that fate sends us little signs and it's how we read the signs that determines whether we're happy or not." This, of course, is what Sara Thomas said in "Serendipity" and it is apropos, save for the employment of the adjective "little." Fate sends David a big sign. In fact, David essentially comes face to face, mistakenly, with fate, or, shall we say, The Adjustment Bureau, a group that exists specifically to keep people to their "plans." These two fedora wearing fellows, Richardson (John Slattery) and Harry (Anthony Mackie), calmly and basically tell David that by meeting Elise this second time he has inadvertently altered his plan. What plan, David wants to know. Well, even Richardson and Harry don't know because all these plans, it seems, are put together by The Man Upstairs and/or "The Chairman". (I like God being referred to as The Chairman. That's funny.) David doesn't care a wit. He's going after Elise. Damn the torpedoes. So The Adjustment Bureau fights back with all the tricks at its disposal, such as a frightening guy named Thompson (Terrence Stamp) - sorta The Bear Jew of The Adjustment Bureau - who turns up and immediately gives a long monologue about his organization's history that is absolutely ridiculous but is made ridiculously awesome because, well, Terrence Stamp needs BIG dialogue. He just wouldn't sound right reading the menu.

Universe - 447,835  Matt Damon & Emily Blunt - 1
Please understand, the film takes little interest in its sci-fi/fantasy roots. This an absurdist romantic melodrama with a serious face and appealing chemistry between its two stars where the conversation flows so smoothly it only works to accentuate the physical attraction. David and Elise are a more soap operaish Jesse and Celine. And even if those "Mad Men"-era storm-troopers look ridiculous and even if the film contains some flat-out wretched, heavy-handed bits of exposition poured from a gravy boat and even if the conclusion is a forced bit of bow-tying, well, those are, like, movie problems and I think this is more of a filmed parable, commenting not only on Fate vs. Choice but on this staggering obsession with our careers and on the way love, real love, is so much about taking that other person's hand and trusting that he or she will not lead you down the primrose path.

Let me say this all another way - there was a moment later in the film when Elise is explaining she was once engaged and David asks why she didn't get married and I mouthed to myself - before Elise could reply - "Because of you" - because I so desperately wanted that to be Elise's response - and then Elise said "Because of you" and, dear readers, I was so ecstatic it was all I could do to keep myself from doing a somersault down the aisle. Which is to say I loved this movie. Then again, of course I did. It's highly possible you will not. But perhaps you should walk through that door and take a chance anyway. It's what David and Elise would do.

1 comment:

Castor said...

Glad you loved it, want to see this but not sure when I will be able to hit the movie theater.