Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Current cinema: “The Informant!” and “Away We Go”

“The Informant!”

“Lying is like alcoholism. You are always recovering.”

Stephen Soderbergh’s own quote perhaps serves as the best frame of reference for watching “The Informant!” Central to this superficially jocund, inwardly doleful film is a study of the quicksandesque effects of lying, within the most seemingly unscrupulous institution capitalism has to offer: the corporation. (They are only truly unscrupulous to those of us obtuse enough to believe that their objective is anything but generating profit.)

Calling “The Informant!” purely the “wacky little brother of ‘Erin Brockovich'” (as Variety critic Todd McCarthy did) or the quirky, satirically oriented distant cousin of “Catch Me If You Can,” only somewhat does justice to its unambitiously pedestrian plot: biochemist-cum-executive Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) suddenly decides to reveal to the FBI his company’s (Archer Daniels Midland) part in a global price-fixing scheme, but cannot fully cooperate, per se, because of his compulsive tendency to lie. The plot rumbles along the length of the film, never really reaching a meaningful climax and begging the imperative so-what inquiry.

Don’t be fooled, however; Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory absolutely applies. Much of this film’s intelligence occurs beneath (or behind) the celluloid. Soderbergh proposes that lies do much more than blur reality; indeed, they become it. They are as easy to begin as they are difficult to correct and once you start, you can’t really stop. (Ruminate on this: substitute “start” for “pop” and “you can’t really” for “the fun don’t.”)

Corporate truth-claiming slogans aside, Soderbergh also uses this film to satirize the ways that words are taken out of context and euphemisms are turned into platitudes: in one scene, several FBI investigators watch a taped clandestine meeting between the A.D.M. heads and their price-fixing Asian corporation price-fixing conspirators. The FBI detective determines, however, that the evidence provided by the tape doesn’t merit a prosecution merely because the word “agreement” wasn’t mentioned.

Does this highbrow minutiae, though, warrant a ticket the time and money it requires to go see it? Definitely… or, I may have been lying all along.

“Away We Go”

Forget those putrid romantic comedies, like the current “Love Happens” or the former “He’s Just Not That Into You,” that had you wishing they were antediluvian, so they too would be washed away with the Flood. Sam Mendes’s “Away We Go,” both romantic and comedic, is so far removed from that genre –– cacodemonic and impregnated with nocuous scripts, squalid acting, and pathetic directing –– as to constitute a certain kind of Noah.

The film, rather, is a restrained study of Burt (John Krasinski aka Jim Halpert of “The Office”) and Verona’s (Maya Rudolph from SNL) third-life crisis that takes them all across the United States and even into Canada. It pays homage to great American indies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Juno”: touching, delicate, and modest; never capricious or pretentious. It doesn’t pretend to be any bigger than it is. Thus, “Away We Go” is, in a sense, a carefully crafted bildungsromane that, while not constituting a “classic,” will nonetheless warm your heart.

After discovering the disconcerting plans of Burt’s parents, Burt and Verona decide to undertake a search for a place where they can settle down to raise their future daughter. The film, though, is more about what they learn about themselves at each stop than it is about the traveling between them.

Should they settle in Phoenix and befriend Verona’s onetime boss Lilly (Allison Janney) whose frightening candor and alcoholism have stunned the rest of her family into laconism? Or, perhaps, in Wisconsin, where Burt’s childhood friend Ellen (Maggie Gyllenhall), who has changed her name to “LN,” is now a professor and has turned into a perverse blend of strictness, politically correctness and New Age intellect?

Even when they find a couple they admire, Tom (Chris Messina) and Munch (Melanie Lynskey), Burt and Verona are swept elsewhere –– to Miami no less –– to continue their journey. Though their last stop may well squeeze an affectionate tear out of you, remember the beautiful journey that got them there.

Sam Mendes’s “Away We Go” will come out on DVD and blueray on September 29.

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