Don’t squeeze the chairma…. ah, hell.

That a mysterious spiderlike executive called the Chairman circles around behind the scenes, spinning (and respinning) the Plan, while minions dressed like castaway extras from The Thin Man run around, turning peoples’ phones off like so many stiff-shouldered well-coiffed gremlins, should not put you off this film. Nor should the fact that the Chairman is not, as I had begun to hope, Frank Sinatra. Nor the relentless humbuggery of its metaphysics.*

For 3/4 of its running time, who cares? The film coasts on a nice look, some witty and infectious (but nicely underplayed) dialogue, and a boundless charisma across the cast — as leads, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are respectively and dually engaging, and in sharp contrast to 97% of other romantic comedies, you buy the relentless necessity of their being together. Just as fine are a beleaguered middle-manager sort-of-angel played with pleasant exasperation by John Slattery, the one slump-shouldered (and morally-questioning) member of his crew played by a fine Anthony Mackie, and the reliably unnerving and menacing bigger boss Terence Stamp. The film takes the generic rom-dramedy shtick of fated lovers, forcefully separated by but seeking to overcome circumstance, and gooses it with a strange alt-dimensional fantasy about the Plan, and behind-the-scenes interventions by a force of bureaucrats charged with ensuring the Plan.

There’s a far more interesting film to be made that more fully realizes the paranoia inherent in the idealized dream of Love in this genre. Other interesting variants might include more emphasis on the weird mash-up of political idealism and idealized authoritarianism, dumping the romance–or, heck, I liked the romance: why not just write a great screwball romantic comedy, with this great cast? Clearly writer-director George Nolfi has some chops.

That said, the film really digs its quasi-religious hoodoo, and dissipates some (but not all) of its earned affections in a final act where everybody runs around, A LOT, and unconvincingly tries to argue why their love matters.

*But, seriously, and I guess this is a spoiler, if you actually care about the Chairman plot: apparently David and Elise actually WERE meant to be together, in prior incarnations of the Plan that everyone cares about. But then the Plan got revised–and, heck, I’m okay with that, that even the biggest of Big-Cheese Architects might change His/Her mind about the blueprint. What’s kind of boggling here is that David and Elise really truly desperately want to be together, but theirs is less a love disrupting Fate then a love opting for some earlier predetermined scenario. What we have is competing versions of deterministic interaction, or Love Conquers All, if and only if All-Conquering Love was written into an earlier draft. The film’s metaphysics are gloriously unhinged and unclear. But as I note above, that mostly doesn’t matter.

4 thoughts on “Don’t squeeze the chairma…. ah, hell.”

  1. i think what mike must be trying to say is that this film is shit. because it is. boring shit with shiny production values. there is nothing to like about it. nothing. it’s badly constructed and fails at being either romantic or comedic on the one hand or thrilling on the other (it contains the most boring chase sequence of the last 350 years). it’s like a student paper that has two or three interesting ideas but no idea how to integrate them. charlie kaufman might have been up to doing something with this but the committee that wrote the script was not. and it goes on for fucking ever.

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