Monday, August 5, 2013

In the Loop

I am not a Whovian, but yesterday I got to watch all my Whovian internet friends explode with the announcement of the casting of Twelve.  And then I realized that I have a review for one of Twelve's films!  So congratulations, Peter Capaldi, you get a special post today!

In the Loop
Director: Armando Iannucci
Starring: Tom Hollander, Peter Capaldi, Mimi Kennedy, Chris Addison, Anna Chlumsky, David Rasche, James Gandolfini

My dad likes to tell a story about when I was young and couldn’t sleep.  He’s always been a night owl, and when I was but a wee Siobhan, three years old or so, and couldn’t sleep, he’d stay up with me, and more often than not, he’d turn the television to PBS.  That late at night, PBS wasn’t running children’s programming.  No, we’d watch whatever British comedy happened to be on.  My father likes to tell people how he was scared when, as a three year old, I’d be laughing at all the right places during an episode of Monty Python.  With such an upbringing, it’s not too much of a wonder that classic Britcoms have been with me for a long, long time.  I mention this because I’ve always found British comedies funnier than many American comedies, and In the Loop is no exception.  Thing is, though, I think it’s even better than many of its own ilk because it takes the dry wit and black humor and scathingly applies it to the current political climate, a landscape that desperately needs some skewering.

Malcolm Tucker (Capaldi) is a foul-mouthed and ruthless director of PR for the British Prime Minister who has his hands full with slightly dense elected official Simon Foster (Hollander). The problem is that Foster hasn’t toed party lines when it comes to the government’s pro-war position for the impending Middle East conflict, having unintentionally given the press an anti-war sound bite.  Things get even more confusing when Foster tries to backpedal but instead ends up providing yet another unintentional sound bite, but this time it’s pro-war, and Foster’s new assistant Toby (Addison) is put in charge of handling the situation.  American politicians jump all over Foster’s comments on both sides, trying to leverage him as British support for their arguments.  This includes Karen Clark (Kennedy), an anti-war politician, and her assistant Liza (Chlumsky), as well as Linton Barwick (Rasche), who wants war at all costs.

Before getting into the massive political commentary rife throughout In the Loop, I’d like to state that this is the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.  I find a great deal of things funny, but I tend not to laugh out loud all that often.  Sometimes my husband thinks something is wrong; we’ll be watching an amusing show, he’ll look over after a good joke and ask, “Why aren’t you laughing?”  Just because I don’t laugh at something doesn’t mean I don’t find it very funny.  I mention this because when something actually DOES make me laugh out loud, it means I think it’s positively hysterical.  And I was laughing out loud throughout almost the entirety of In the Loop.  I’m not entirely sure why I’m wired that way, and why so little comedy manages to elicit belly-laughs from me, but I do know that when I come across something that DOES (which, by the way, more often than not is British comedy), I latch onto it like crazy, and I know it’s a good thing.

Mostly improvised from script outlines, the dialogue is rip-roaringly funny.  Akin to a British political version of Christopher Guest’s Best in Show, I am always staggered by the skill of people who can make up such incredibly funny lines on the spot.  When an angry Scot says of opera “It’s just vowels!  Foreign, subsidized vowels!” I lost it.  A particular favorite was “Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult,” a line which, admittedly, out of context, probably doesn’t come across as that funny, but one that almost had me falling out of my chair when I first heard it in the film, and then when it was later repeated I almost peed myself.  

I cannot tell you how badly I want this to be Twelve's catchphrase.

And bringing up more of the comedy, one of my other favorite lines was when Malcolm ended a phone call by yelling “Fuckity bye!”  In the Loop has some of the most creative vulgarities I believe I have ever heard.  F-bombs are dropped nearly every other sentence – heck, sometimes, every other word, but it’s not just about the swearing.  Such massively unique insults are hurled with lightning reflexes, it’s hard not to be impressed.  Every character has someone they intensely dislike, and a great deal of the exchanges in the film are these people simply tearing one another down.  It would be sad and maybe a bit depressing but for the fact that it’s more than clear that every character has immensely thick skin and knows how to let these barbs simply run off their back.  Fuckity bye!

Alright, so In the Loop is the funniest movie I’ve seen since Borat, the film that had me reaching for an oxygen tank.  But when that comedy is used to make frightening political commentary, then we’ve really got something.  Just like Borat uses its humor to tear down America’s conception of itself, In the Loop rips the political world to shreds.  The entire plot is about whether or not a war will be started, but all the action takes place in the world of politics.  It’s only mentioned once or twice that the war in question will take place in the Middle East, which underlines the point that this war is not about the enemy.  No reason for the war is ever given – EVER – which makes the point that this war is not about a valid motive.  But we are constantly given politicians politicking, which means that the grey, unnamed war in In the Loop is entirely and only about politics and people in suit, miles away from any kind of actual conflict.  

And what’s truly frightening is that this philosophy feels barely removed from the truth.  In the Loop is deathly funny, but also more than a bit scary because it strikes far too close for comfort.  The sort of unintelligent double speak, where politicians manage to talk endlessly while saying nothing at all, is all too much of a reality.  The behind-the-scenes wrangling, where minutes of meetings are shamelessly altered, where articles are rewritten to only present pro-war arguments, are stomach-churning in how conniving they are, but the scary thing is it feels all too possible.  Is this what politics is really like?  As sad as it is, I could buy In the Loop as a documentary, a world where no character is pure, where every character is backstabbing and has their own ulterior motives, where each side is ridiculous in their faults.  There are no heroes in In the Loop, but there are many villains.

In the Loop is funny, biting, and incisively clever.  Like I said, I rarely laugh out loud at comedies, but I did here, and by the end of the film, it had definitely become a bit of laughing and crying mixed together.  In the Loop is smart, very smart, and it’s a little sad, if not wholly unsurprising, that I had never even heard of it except for its presence in 1001 Movies.  It’s too easy to understand why it didn’t get enough press in America to make its way onto my radar. 

I now want to end all of my phone conversations with “Fuckity bye!”

Arbitrary Rating: 9/10


  1. Boy do I agree on this one (although not on Borat, sorry.) I laughed my ass off at In the Loop. Like you, I might never have even heard of it were it not on the 1,001 Movies list and I included it among my best finds across the entire list when I did my post on completing the list.

    On a completely different topic, I asked this in my July status post, but I guess you didn't see it. In July I re-watched the first four seasons of Castle and re-read the four books. Have you finished season 4 yet? If not, have you at least seen the 1940s noir Blue Butterfly episode?

    1. *wails* Nooooooooooooooooo I haven't seen it yet. I've seen the first, like, three episodes of s4 of Castle. I have heard so much of this episode... I MUST CATCH UP!!! *gnashes teeth*

      This movie is HYSTERICAL. And YEAH, I would never have heard of it were it not for The List. All Hail The List.

    2. I thought you had said at one point that you were about 10 episodes in. Oh well, maybe I misremembered. I just checked; The Blue Butterfly is the 14th episode of the season. I think you'll like it a lot. Don't skip ahead to it, though; watch the episodes in order.

      The reason I keep asking is for selfish reasons. I REALLY want to see your reaction to the end of season 4. And I can help you see the first episode of season 5 when you want since I assume you will after finishing season 4.

    3. I should have mentioned that I think you'll also like Eps 5 (a Thomas Crown Affair episode), 6 (a Halloween episode), 7 (a different kind of episode than usual - you'll see what I mean), 10 (Castle and Beckett handcuffed together and not sure how they got there), 14 (The Blue Butterfly - 1940s noir), 15 and 16 (the annual two-parter, this time involving the CIA), 21 (Adam Baldwin from Firefly guest stars as a rogue cop who may get Castle killed), 22 (two words - "zombie attack"), and 23 (the season finale where everything comes to a head.)

    4. It's at the point now where I'd just need to restart s4. Which is really no biggie as I can churn out 2 discs a day if I'm feeling motivated. Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah... TOO MUCH STUFF TO WATCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *flails* *dies*

      I'll try, man. I'll try, before the end of summer.

    5. Thanks. I'll wait patiently. Of course, it's not like I have any other option except maybe driving until I hit Lake Ontario then asking people where Siobhan lives so I can make you watch them in person. :-)

      Please don't make me drive to Lake Ontario. :-(

      Will it help if in return I finish watching The Lizzie Bennett Diaries? I watched the first 30 of 100 webisodes in one sitting after you mentioned it to me, but then never got back to it.

    6. "Please don't make me drive to Lake Ontario. :-( "

      I actually sporfled into my cereal when I read that. Well done, mate.


      Speaking of LBD, the creators just announced their latest Austen-based web series, set to start this fall: "Emma Approved." I've already joined the various and sundry web fan groups and am eagerly awaiting the first episode.

    7. Okay, the geezer is going to need another vocabulary lesson from the whippersnapper. What is "sporfied"?

    8. To sporfle: to unexpectedly snort laughing, typically while drinking a beverage of some sort.

  2. I agree with Chip on this, and on Borat. Loved this one, spent Borat cringing. This one, though--it's funny because it's also likely true in a lot of ways, and I laughed at it so it didn't scare the hell out of me. I'm guessing a lot of political decisions do get made like this, though.

    One of these days I should start watching Castle.

    1. To be fair, I even surprised myself with how ridiculously funny I found Borat, so I don't really expect others to share my reaction. But In The Loop, that's brilliant. I put on the first ten minutes of it for my sister to show her the outrageous insults, and she wound up watching the whole damn thing. She didn't want to turn it off. Fine by me!!!

      Castle's a very solid show. Chip should probably be the one to flail about it to you, but I like it, and it can get rather addicting. So, you know, once you've finished watching all the movies, you can watch Castle.

    2. @Steve - Castle is the kind of show where if you like Nathan Fillion, there's a good chance you'll like the show. I know you liked the movie Slither that he was in. And I learned that I was wrong and that you like science fiction a lot. Fillion was the lead for the SF TV show Firefly and the movie Serenity, if you saw them.

      Castle primarily deals with solving murder mysteries and the chemistry between the two leads. Not an original comcept, but it comes down to a good balance of seriousness and humor. He is also a good dad to a teenage daughter, which I like a lot. I actually wrote about each of the seasons and books. Here is the parent post. I recommend reading that and the first link to an intro to the show. It does not contain spoilers. Each subsequent link does not spoil its subject matter, but might possibly spoil an event from an earlier season.

  3. Apparently I should start watching Castle too. I need to make my token Brit response of "Ha! I saw this even before starting the List!" but, y'know, it's British, so I don't really count. I love this film too, especially the swearing (f-star-star-c**t is my favourite bit, and the whole purview dialogue).

    Seeing as you liked it so much, you might enjoy a British TV Show called The Thick Of It. Personally I haven't seen it (but I've always meant to, and still intend to eventually), but In The Loop is a spin-off from it, featuring the same writer/creator (Armando Iannucci, the most fun name to say, ever), and it keep some of the same characters and actors (including Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker). I imagine the budget is nowhere near the scope for Loop, but it might be worth a watch nonetheless.

    1. Dammit, I forgot about the "F star star c**t" line. That had me in stitches. And the purview bit was when I knew I was in for something crazy.

      YES, in doing a bit of research on In the Loop, I found out it was based on The Thick of It. And yeah, if it's ANYTHING like this movie, I'd undoubtedly enjoy it. I even checked, but Netflix doesn't have it. Sad face. Because now, I really want to watch that show. MOAR MALCOLM TUCKER DAMMIT!!!!!!!!