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Sci-fi has an awkward fling with romance
on 24 July 2011
What a cliché: handsome career man meets quirky bohemian beauty, and even though they've only known each other for a few seconds, it's obvious that they've found The One. After that, there's nothing for a romance film to do but throw a few contrived obstacles at the made-for-each-other twosome to keep them apart 'til the happy ending.
Except The Adjustment Bureau isn't a straight-up romance, it's a sci-fi too; and the obstacles that beset Matt Damon and Emily Blunt go way beyond an awkward ex or a few comical misunderstandings. It's based on a Philip K Dick story, which means that this film wants to turn your brain inside out and leave you gaping mistrustfully at the fundamentals of existence. It's an ambitious set-up, and one that The Adjustment Bureau doesn't quite pull off, although it comes close just often enough to keep on the side of enjoyable diverting. Just often enough to make you frustratingly aware of what it could have been, too.
Damon stars as David Norris, a former rising star of politics whose career has stalled. While preparing for a pat public appearance, Elise (Blunt) tumbles out of a stall in the men's bathroom and into his life - but the girl slips away. If you know your romance tropes, you also know it's not supposed to be this way.
But when she reappears a few months later and he finally gets her number, she's rapidly followed by some sinister men in hats. These are the agents of the Adjustment Bureau, and they're very insistent that David and Elise aren't meant for each other at all. It's not in the plan, they explain. Whose plan? The Chairman's - a near-omniscient authority with very particular intentions for humanity, and an army of meddlers who can play with space, time and individual brains to make things happen the way he wants them.
These middle-management angels are one of the movie's best bits, even if their powers and motivations don't completely make sense. And the climactic chase through distorted doorways is so good, you feel downright cheated by all the sitting around talking adorably that Blunt and Damon have been doing. Couldn't there have been a bit more running? The Adjustment Bureau shoots high by bringing together cold concepts with heartstring-tugging melodrama. If it had taken a few more chances, it could have been a real success - as it is, the film sticks too close to the plan, even when its main characters are supposed to be breaking it.