Saturday, August 22, 2009


Friday Movie Review--In the Loop

The Independent Film Channel has bankrolled, but not really promoted In the Loop, the movie version of a Brit TV comedy called The Thick of It, which ran for a season and a half a few years ago and the movie version, at least, is a gem. In the Loop is one of the funniest political comedies I've ever seen--certainly the best since Dr. Strangelove 45 years ago. I'm lucky my wife talked me into seeing it. Think Yes, Minister with Python's best written sketches as the sript

It is actually as surreal as anything Ionesco and his coterie ever did, but its comic strength relies primarily on the spoken word, the very clever, quickly spoken word, as there is almost no physical comedy, no slapstick or even odd facial expressions (well, there is the bleeding from the mouth Mimi Kennedy but that wasn't that funny).

I recognized only a few of the Brits--the shrew Director of Communications, Judy, who served the sad little minister, was the paralyzed sister of Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. The sad little minister, Tom Hollander, was the horrible suitor in the new Pride and Prejudice and the evilest guy in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. But the strength and main pillar was the nasty Scot, head media minister or undersecretary of communications whatever played by Peter Capaldi (any relation to the late Traffic drummer Jim?) who carries the movie. It turns out he was an ill-fated Scot in the campy horror film The Lair of the White Worm by Ken Russell, which, by chance, is where Hugh Grant learned to play the Hugh Grant we all know and mostly like him. Of course, Capaldi is a lot older now and in slightly darker spirits than he was in the Lair movie. Indeed, it's as if his character there, corrupted by the snakewoman bite, has aged into his wonderfully bitter, meaner character here. He does get the lion share of the sharper lines, and there are tons and tons of sharp lines. Oh, and Steve Coogan is in it as well, but he's only a little funny.

On the American side there's Tony Soprano in a Lieutenant General's uniform, the aforementioned Mimi Kennedy, and the guy, David Raiche, from the 80s private eye parody TV show, Sledge Hammer, who here plays a state department undersecretary of something with decided overtones of former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. Also good to see the cute child star of the My Girl movies, Anna Chlumsky, back all grown up and kinda pretty still.

The setting generally is about the time period just before the 3/2003 start of Gulf War II but they are not explicitly then or there. The general tone is lefty and anti-war, but no one escapes unscathed. There are no real heroes or heroines nor any completely bad people, although Capaldi and his meaner, if that's possible, Scot henchmen come close. One can try to be as cynnical as these people but one could never keep up.

The director, Armando Iannucci, a 45 year old Glasgow native (of an Italian born dad) has done some of the higher brow Brit television humor, the real thing, not what passes for it with the new generations, just being uncomfortably embarrassed by actions on the screen. His work includes the above mentioned The Thick of It as well as the highly praised but sporadic I'm Alan Parson with Steve Coogan at his best.

Given the near catastrophe we, and England too, have stumbled into politically, it is more reassuring to believe that this is a broad parody of government rather than a little slice of life at the undersecretary of whatever level. More reassuring to believe broad parody, but difficult to embrace it fully. It's difficult to believe our middle management government leadership could be this petty and inept, but it is not impossible to believe it.

Not everything works, but it rarely goes for the cheap laugh or the easy target (as Borat and the new one constantly do); this movie is plain old funny, but with enough wit and intellectual warp and weave that you don't immediately forget it as you leave the theater.

I don't smell bisque.


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