In the Loop: British Wit Makes For the Funniest Film of the Summer
Some people object to the credo that profanity is amusing. True, when profanity is injected into dialogue without invention or purpose, with its sole aim to shock the audience or to make filthy an otherwise boring statement, I am in complete agreement. However, In The Loop makes four-letter verbiage sound like art. In a summer when comedies are either indie quirkfests or high-concept raunchy capers, In The Loop dares to use a word that to movie studios is more shocking and profane than any other– wit. It is easily the smartest and funniest film of the summer, a British political satire full of memorable characters, smart storytelling, and one-liners for days. The expert craftsmanship at work here makes most comedies of the last several years look slapdash and lazy.
Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), the Prime Minister’s communications chief, is having a lousy morning. In a radio interview, the British Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), referred to war as “unforeseeable.” Why is this a problem? Because Britain doesn’t want to sit on a single side of the fence when it comes to war, since revealing what you really want in the game of international politics is tantamount to showing your hand in a poker game. It’s also not a terrific morning for Toby Wright (Chris Addison), who picked a fine day to become Mr. Foster’s new aide. Meanwhile, in America, the doves and hawks are both competing to get Simon Foster (and Great Britain) on their side as they hope to get support or opposition to a conflict in the Middle East.
Sound heavy? It’s not. It’s a comedy of errors– everyone keeps trying to play the other, and everyone keeps cursing and insulting the others in hopes they come out on top. Although the laughs keep coming, the characters all have dimension and the stakes to their discussions are very real. If the plot didn’t feel true, the one-liners would have come off as clownish and the characters unbelievable, when in fact they come off as frighteningly realistic. The most striking element is the wit– it’s the type of movie that makes you realize this level of intelligence is sorely lacking in the writing for other films. The team of writers credited (Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Ian Martin, Tony Roche, and director Armando Iannucci) have crafted a brilliantly taut, expertly written film. It of course would be nothing without the cast. Everyone is on the exact same page in terms of delivery, tone, and timing. Hollander and Addison banter beautifully, and the main Americans portrayed by Mimi Kennedy, David Rasche, Anna Chlumsky (of My Girl fame), and James Gandolfini get to display an equal wit to the Brits– a rarity in a British-made film. Countless other actors make very vivid impressions in their two or three scenes; it’s like The Office or The Simpsons, where even minor roles make quick distinct marks on the proceedings. Finally, Peter Capaldi is like a tornado of rage in this movie, sucking up everyone who gets in his path, and one would hope that the Academy would recognize him with a nomination this February somehow.
This is the type of movie overflowing with the joy of wit, filled to the brim with things I miss about films that come out nowadays. Where have all of the clever comedies gone? What’s more, where have all the satires gone (when the most scathing satire of the last several years is a Disney animated film, the genre is dying, or at the very least bedridden)? If a movie like this is smart enough to introduce a double-digit number of characters, develop them as they go without ever distracting from the main narrative, and display wit in every one of them, why do we continue to see the same stock characters in American comedy– witless, one-dimensional buffoons? There’s a time for the types of comedy that America has put out as of late, the high-concept, escapist fare. I’ve laughed at many of them, and given a couple 3.5 kernels (The Hangover being the most recent). Yet this movie surpasses them– it knows that smart people use profanity too, and they use them as weapons, not as casual shock tactics. If you have the opportunity, see this film. It’s likely no comedy this year will pass it. You don’t want to be left out of “In the Loop.”