Friday, November 25, 2016

Miss Sloane to You

Traditionally, the knock on lobbyists as a professional class is their lack of principles. They are the worst sort of mercenaries, who will rep any cause if the price is right. However, when Miss Elizabeth Sloane decides to turn her back on the corporate work fighting government regulation that she genuinely believes in, just to prove her mettle passing a Brady-style gun control bill, it is presented as an act of heroism. Frankly, if you are inclined to pedantry you won’t get past the first act of John Madden’s smugly self-righteous Miss Sloane (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Miss Elizabeth Sloane is supposed to be a throwback to the sort of professional characters Joan Crawford played back in the day. She is a sharp-dressed, salty-talking, emasculating woman who thrives in a male-dominated sphere. She will crusade against a bill she sinisterly dubs the “Nutella tax,” but much to her boss’s surprise, she actually believes in more firearm regulation, more or less. After belittling her firm’s new gun rights client, Miss Elizabeth Sloane up and leaves, taking most of the junior staff with her to the “boutique” lobbying firm (code for liberal) founded by earnest do-gooder Rodolfo Schmidt (even she makes fun of that name).

To pass their bill, Miss Elizabeth Sloane’s team will need sixty votes to overcome a possible filibuster. Of course, they have a fraction of that. However, Miss Elizabeth Sloane will use her former firm’s tactics against them. Her ethics are atrocious, but Schmidt is impressed with her results. Yet, he will draw the line when she coolly and calculatingly exploits the personal history of Esme Manucharian, a junior associate at the firm, who survived a school shooting in her teen years.

If you want an example of the “bubble” Saturday Night Live suggested American liberals live in, Miss Sloane would be exhibit A. It is highly doubtful Madden and screenwriter Jonathan Perera has ever talked to a gun owner or Second Amendment activist. (If they are just a gaggle of stupid jowly men, why do they keep winning?) Indeed, the film is just rife with awkward ironies after the recent election. Why, oh why the filmmakers must wonder are those Red State denizens not convinced when liberals like Sloane and Schmidt talk down to them, as they pat themselves on the back? None of this dialogue rings true. Rather, it reflects the prejudices Perera projects on those he does not agree with and gives Chastain the sort of zingy one-liners he wishes he heard more often on MSNBC.

Ironically, the one place Miss Sloane works are the scenes the lobbyist shares with her gigolo, Forde. Actually, he is the new guy the agency keeps sending over, which she is not thrilled about, because it slightly alters the tightly structured life she has arranged for herself. In these very adult sequences, Jessica Chastain shows intriguing flashes of vulnerability as Miss Elizabeth Sloane, nicely playing off and with Jake Lacy as the not-as-dumb-as-he-looks Forde.

As the campaign progresses, we watch one phony twist after another, each of which proves just how much smarter and morally superior Miss Elizabeth Sloane is compared to her competition. This is exactly the sort of blatantly obvious manipulation that left the old media’s reputation in tatters. Chastain does not help matters either, playing her congressional hearings as if Nicole Kidman’s climatic speech in Grace of Monaco was just too blasted subtle (and logical). So much for that unshakable professional exterior.

In a better alternate universe, there is a superior Miss Sloane made in the late 1950s. It stars Jerry Lewis as the mailroom boy who carries a torch for Miss Elizabeth Sloane (Oh, Miss Sloane!), played by Phyllis Kirk. However, he is also a secret NRA member. When he saves Miss Sloane by blowing a stalker to Kingdom Come, she changes her mind on guns, but it is still bittersweet for Lewis, because she falls in love with Schmidt instead (played by Martin Milner), with whom she marries and moves to Idaho, starting a business selling refurbished vintage firearms at gun shows. Sadly, that rather silly Miss Sloane is not nearly as ridiculous as the version we have in our universe. The one we are stuck with is just an eye-rolling, face-palming viewing experience. Not recommended, not even for its unintentional giggles, Miss Sloane opens today (11/25) in New York, at the AMC Lincoln Square.