Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

...oh, YES WE CAN!
...oh, YES WE CAN!

A review of IN THE LOOP:

Satire is so hard to pull off.  It’s so far from being “easy peasy lemon squeezy” I would go as far to say that it’s “difficult difficult lemon difficult.”  It’s a British term, you’ll catch on soon.

For the past ten years satire has been regulated to animation (the South Park movie), puppetry (Team America), and well, something called Sacha Baron Cohen, and let’s be honest, is that even real satire, or just mockery?  We really haven’t seen anything live-action of this sort since Wag the Dog, which is why it’s so refreshing to be back In the Loop.  And guess what?  Politics are funny again!

In the Loop is the minor masterstroke of Armando Iannucci, and his central conceit is to imagine a Dr. Strangelove “rush to war” scenario done up in a modern context and filmed like an episode of “The Office” — the British version.  Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell provide the fire power through their whiplash inducing witty dialogue that in turn is spewed forth by a live-wire cast of American and British veterans all playing their A-game.

The loop goes a little something like this:  A moronic British minister of something or the other (Tom Hollander) misspeaks on TV about “war being unforeseen”, which puts Downing Street in a tizzy.  Meanwhile the American Assistant to the Assistant of the Secretary of the Secretary of State (?) — a bleeding-toothed Mimi Kennedy — sees this “misquote” as a way to advance her cause and gets all a twitter about drumming up her “slow down to war” agenda armed with a misinformed paper (stupidly acronymed as WHIPIP) written by her assistant (a lovely Anna Chlumsky, all grown-up since My Girl).  Meanwhile, the war hawks on both sides (an idiotically righteous David Rasche and a profanity spewing Peter Capaldi) decide to rally their troops and rush a UN vote to go to war before the other side gains any traction.  In the mix are James Gandolfini (gangbusters) as an American armchair general and Gina McKee (a kind of British Tea Leoni, if you will) as that British minister’s right-hand woman and the only person with any common sense or dignity.

The film sometimes becomes a case of “too much meat in the room”, but I suppose that is part of the point.  Amidst all the talking bobbling heads pleading their case and trying to save face, Iannucci presents a vision of modern geopolitics that wipes away all that clandestine mega-conspiracy bullshit and uncovers it for what it is.  Whether it’s about fixing a wall in one’s home district or starting a war that will cost thousands of lives, the people making the decisions are just a bunch of bumble-headed ego-driven nitwits scrambling to keep their careers afloat in a steaming ocean of hypocrisy, idiocy and nepotism.  We never really get that “There’s no fighting in here!  This is the war room!” moment that Dr. Strangelove so precisely provided because there’s almost too much going on here and too many people talking, but it comes close when Rasche declares in a heated whisper at the UN,  “This space is sacred.  Now I may not believe in that and you may not believe in that…but it makes for a useful hypocrisy.”

As funny as the film is (and it’s sure to have its dialogue quoted for years to come), the final moments actually turn quite serious as people start losing their jobs, stories and evidence are fabricated, the media continues their knee-jerk drumbeating and resolutions get passed.  Suddenly you realize, this might not be that far from the truth…and sadly, those buffoons in London, Washington and New York making this all up probably aren’t nearly as witty as the folks In the Loop.  Yup, I reckon that rush to war was all kinds of difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.

Written by David H. Schleicher



  1. Satire is indeed very difficult to pull off, in fact it may be the rarest form of screen success. Two great American satires date back a number of years: Mel Brooks’s THE PRODUCERS and Hal Ashby’s BEING THERE. In the Golden Age, one can certainly count Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR and Lubitsch’s TO BE OR NOT TO BE as wartime gems, while few would contest that the greatest American satirist was probably Preston Sturges, and SULLIVANS TRAVELS is his greatest masterpiece. The Italian LA GRANDE BOUFFE, satirized over comsumption, while Luis Bunuel’s satires about the Catholic Church are scathingly brilliant.

    But the Brits are traditionally on screen and television the best at this game, and IN THE LOOP is one of the funniest movies I’ve seen in years. Yes the gag here is one-note, and the vulgarity is central to the charm, but what a one-note it is. I agree that the film has made politics funny again, and similarly I concur that the Sacha Baron Cohen shtick is mockery, not satire. I like that categorization combining THE OFFICE with DR. STRANGELOVE.
    I laughed from the point that the ‘bleeding-toothed’ Mimi Kennedy appeared, and never stopped. The various one-liners and set pieces were inventive, and much relied on the acting which was first-rate. Iannucci looks like a fresh new talent!

    Great, enthusiastic appraisal!

    Sam, I’ve been laughing about it all day…so much packed in there…and just about every single joke worked. A very rare film indeed. There’s also some great “classics” you listed there that I should probably catch up with! –DHS

  2. David: I must admit that this one has stayed with me. I’m expecting this will appear among the year’s best films in December. A great comedy is so rare these days.

    Sam, agreed. It’s almost a shoe-in for my year end top ten…I would be pleasantly surprised (and quite frankly, shocked) if that many quality films released between now and December were to bump it. Same goes for The Hurt Locker — a very different type of film of course. –DHS

  3. Hi! D.H.,
    I guess after reading Sam Juliano and your ” ringing endorsements” for this film that is enough for me to give this film a “peek.”

    I must admit in some instances, I really do enjoy the British brand of humour/or outlook on situations in certain films.

    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee 😉

    DeeDee – I dare say you’ll laugh yourself silly watching this one. –DHS

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