(Warning: The following may and does contain SPOILERS)
Have I sinned? Is it thanks to some flaw in my character that I was led to The Adjustment Bureau? Or did sitting through the movie simply cause the fewest ripples? I tried to avoid it; I did—but every conflicting event was canceled, every excuse invalidated. I didn’t have a ride, then someone offered to drive. I was too hungry, then a stranger handed me a burrito. I had to finish building a machine that could drill to the center of the earth so I could set off some nuclear bombs and restart the spinning of earth’s core, then I realized that didn’t make any scientific sense! After so many small miracles, I knew I couldn’t avoid my fate any longer. I had to go the movies.
It wasn’t an altogether pleasant experience. The car seat had left a sticky residue on my pants, the burrito was vegetarian, and I kept worrying that the world was about to end, but worst of all was this persistent feeling that I’d been tricked. Twice in the last month I’ve ended up watching romance movies. And I never watch romance movies by accident. Because if I do, I don’t remember to bring tissues for my tears, and my face just ends up a total mess. I Am Number Four looked like an epic superhero movie, so I went, only to find myself stranded on a small island of CG in an ocean of emotion. The Adjustment Bureau was no better. What looked like a supernatural thriller starring Jason Bourne was nothing more than a tale of bittersweet love covered in a deceptively crunchy shell of conspiratorial candy coating.
I suppose bittersweet isn’t all bad, though—useful for baking. Anyway, Matt Damon stars as David Norris, an up-and-coming politician with a pretty face and a promising future. He loses an election and is on the verge of also losing hope when he runs into Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the bathroom. It’s love at first sight. Her carefree attitude inspires him to give a heartfelt speech that wins over the public. By chance, he later runs into her on a bus, and things are looking great. The only problem is, he was never supposed to see her again.
The Adjustment Bureau knew David needed a nudge in the right direction so he wouldn’t give up, and they chose to use Elise, but they weren’t meant to be together. That goes against the Bureau’s plan, and it’s up to the agents to make sure everything goes according to plan. That’s right. There’s a secret world of agents running around the world mapping out our lives for us. The plan is God’s work, and these guys in suits are angels, and, you guessed it, there’s no such thing as free will. But love conquers everything, even God, so David sets out to prove he has free will, overcome the administrative powers of the seraphim, and tell God to suck one.
The setup is full of fate vs. free will potential, with plenty of room for conspiracy and action, but that setup is all it is. The movie never really delivers, choosing instead to spend lots of time on the love story and long-winded explanations of the workings of the Bureau. Nothing particularly exciting ever happens, save for one scene of David running from the agents. Plus there’s a bunch of arbitrary rules tossed in that reek heavily of plot device and rip you out of the flow of the film. Angels wear hats that allow them to make doors lead to distant locations. Hats?! Oh, and certain doors connect to specific other doors, so the angels have to spend a lot of time memorizing the “substreets.” This leads to the comedic line “I hate downtown.” Yeah, it gets a laugh, but really it’s just pointing out the absurdity of these arbitrary plot conventions. Turn a doorknob right and you jump to the next place. Turn it left and you meet God. And for some reason, angels are weak to water.
The Bureau’s limitations are silly, but so are their conventions. Each agent is only allowed to make so many minor changes, because after that, the effects, or “ripples” become too great, but we see one angel cause series after series of car accidents. If we start to imagine the butterfly effect, even the smallest change will have huge repercussions, and something like a car crash is really gonna fuck someone’s day. I mean, imagine. You’re driving to work, then boom! Angel messes you up with his magic. Suddenly you’re in the hospital and your wife has to leave work to come meet you. Her friend has to take over her shift, meaning she can’t go out on her blind date. It falls through and she ends up with some low-life and they give birth to Hitler 2.
Ok. Ok. People have told me that I tend to read way too heavily into the science fiction behind these love stories (read: The Lake House—basically time-travel vomit), so I think maybe I’m being a little harsh and I try to keep an open mind. I’m sitting back, trying to enjoy myself, when out of nowhere the movie tells me that the characters aren’t really in love anyway. They slap you right in the face with it. The agents explain that the only reason David and Elise love each other is because they were supposed to end up together in an earlier version of the plan! Suddenly the film isn’t about love conquering everything or even free will vs. predestination. It’s about David accidentally stumbling onto an outdated version of his fate because the agents made a mistake. It completely eviscerates the entire romance. And it’s not even revealed as a twist; it’s just mentioned in passing like it’s no big deal, but I mean, what am I supposed to be rooting for? For the beta version of the plan to win? For David to literally reach God and beat the crap out of him? Actually, that would be pretty sweet. Could be some hardcore, supernatural action sequence.
Oh well. I suppose it’s not my place to question God’s plan, for as we all know, the best laid schemes of mice and men go often askew, and leave us nothing but grief and pain. But you know whose plan I can question? The screenwriters, because this movie could use some serious adjustment.