Liz Tells Frank What Happened In “The Adjustment Bureau”

Dear Frank,

I have a soft spot in my heart for movies that don’t really make sense. I don’t mean in a “oh my god what is WRONG with you people come on FIVE-YEAR-OLDS could write this shit better for fuck’s sake” sort of way. I mean in a “Wait, really, this is a movie that got made? Seriously?” way.

Such is the case with The Adjustment Bureau, which I rewatched this weekend for no real good reason but found as ridiculous the first time as the last. It’s not a BAD movie, Frank. But I’m still not sure how, exactly, it exists.

I know you love it when I spend thousands of words telling you what happens in a movie, Frank, but in this case you really don’t need a detailed description. Here’s what happens in The Adjustment Bureau, Frank: Matt Damon is an ambitious congressman who wants to be a senator, until he meets Emily Blunt, who is a reckless modern dancer. The two of them almost immediately start making out, so powerful is the power of their flirtytimes. But then some bureaucratic angels wearing magic hats–

–Hmmm. Okay. I guess I should explain that the main antagonists in this movie are magical angel bureaucrats who wear fedoras which are also magical. I’m completely serious about this. Matt Damon flat out asks the one who’s been watching over him the whole time, we’ll call him Explainer Angel, “Are you angels?” and the guy says YES.

Being an angel apparently means having a helluva dry-cleaning bill.

Well, he says that’s one of the words used to describe them. But SERIOUSLY! The angels are basically supernatural overseers who use coincidence and contrivance to make things happen “according to the plan,” which they carry around in file folders and magical Moleskin notebooks. Their actions are governed by rules and quotas and budgets and all sorts of malarky, and also apparently their powers are limited by water. Just like the aliens in Signs! Whilst making just about as much sense as Signs!

Anyways, the angels don’t want Emily and Matt to get together, because it’ll keep both of them from following their dreams. And although Matt does really want to be a successful politician-type, Emily is super hot, so he’s like, fuck our dreams, I wanna be with her because love story.

Seriously, they’re super cute.

That is, until one of the angels (JOHN SLATTERY I ❤ U) uses his magical angel powers to sprain Emily’s ankle, and Matt’s like, wait, maybe we should just go ahead and follow our dreams after all.

Until, literally, three years later, when he finds out Emily’s getting married and is like FUCK THAT. So he then tracks down Explainer Angel and is like, teach me how to do your magic stuff, and Explainer Angel GIVES HIM HIS HAT so that he can have MAGICAL HAT POWERS.

One of the proudest moments in my life: When I saw the trailer for Adjustment Bureau, in which there is a scene of Matt Damon running around with a hat, I said “holy shit, does Matt Damon steal a hat so he can have magical hat powers?” and then I saw the movie a few months later and I WAS RIGHT.

To be fair, he does look good in that hat.

The specific magic hat powers, in this case, are the ability to open portals across Manhattan via magically-linked doors, which Matt uses to get to the courthouse and bust up Emily’s wedding. This pisses off the magical bureaucratic angels something fierce, but Emily (despite having good reason to think Matt a) crazy and b) a ditching jerk) decides to trust him and they somehow know where Magical Angel Bureaucracy H.Q. is and decide to storm it? This is despite knowing that the angels, should they get pissed off enough, have the power to totally MIND-WIPE THEM. Like, full-on lobotomy. Their plan does not much make with the sense.

But it doesn’t really matter because their display of love ends up impressing the Guy Who Wrote The Plan But We’ll Never Flat-Out Call God Because Why Strive For Any Sort of Logical Consistency? And so the GWWTPBWNFOCGBWSFASOLC, Explainer Angel reveals, has rewritten the plan so they can be together. Will their dreams end up dying? We’ll never know. We’ll truly never know. Because THE END.

I went ahead and looked up Adjustment Team, the 1954 Philip K. Dick short story that Adjustment Bureau was based on, which Amazon describes as follows:

Sector T137 is scheduled for adjustment and a Clerk is supervising a canine Summoner to ensure real estate salesman Ed Fletcher is inside Sector T137 during the process. An 8:15 bark to summon a Friend With A Car is needed. Unfortunately the bark is a minute late, bringing an Insurance Salesman causing Fletcher to leave for work late. Arriving at Sector T137 after it’s been de-energized, Fletcher enters a terrifying gray ash world. Escaping white-robed men he flees across the street back to the everday energized world outside Sector T137 fearing he’s had a psychotic episode.

You could argue that Bureau is simpler and more logical than whatever that is. And you’d be right, Frank.

But one of the reasons Bureau is so clear and logical is that there’s probably a good 40 percent of screen time given to long discussions between Matt and the magical bureaucratic angels about free will and predestination and what’s ultimately better for humanity. These conversations go on FOREVER, and they are BORING, and clearly added to explain the plot to the cheap seats.

What’s a shame is that that 40 percent of the movie basically buries the 40 percent of the movie that’s Matt trying to evade the magical bureaucratic angels, which include some pretty impressive visual tricks and practical effects — not to mention the 20 percent of the movie that’s just Matt and Emily being INCREDIBLY FUCKING CUTE. Honestly, their on-screen chemistry is some of the best I’ve ever seen, and if anything about this movie works, it’s the part where you totally buy them as two people who very much should be together.

That’s probably, honestly, the reason why I was able to watch this movie more than once. That, plus (again) my sheer disbelief that this movie exists. It cost $50 million! That is more than the gross domestic product of Slovenia!

To be fair, it is slightly less than Luxemboug.

And that $50 million made a movie that just over a year later no one ever really remembers existing, and that ten years from now will be a complete blip on the human consciousness. I suppose the lesson is execution. You can make the most well-intentioned movie of all time. But when the dramatic climax of your plot hinges on magic hats, Frank, it might be better to spend that $50 on something else.


About Liz Shannon Miller

Liz Shannon Miller is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor, and has been talking about television on the Internet since the very beginnings of the Internet. She is currently Senior TV Editor at Collider, and her work has also been published by the New York Times, Vulture, Variety, the AV Club, the Hollywood Reporter, IGN, The Verge, and Thought Catalog. She is also a produced playwright, a host of podcasts, and a repository of "X-Files" trivia.

Posted on July 11, 2012, in All the Spoilers, Movies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Not to mention totally gratuitous appearance by Jennifer Ehle as a Random Bartender. I’m totally convinced she was originally supposed to be God, er, GWWTPBWNFOCGBWSFASOLC, but that got changed later on.

    If God actually were Jennifer Ehle pouring me a drink, I might actually consider religion.

  2. This is awesome. And wait – you called the magic hat thing? that’s fucking incredible. Like, seriously, you should start buying lottery tickets or something, because who would see that preview (which made this movie look like a Bourne flick) and say: why, lookie there, I bet that hat is magical and he stole it in order to do magic-like things! You, that’s who. Color me impressed.

  3. I am 9 years late but just caught this on cable. Funny review. This movie had me scratching my head. So many questions. Did John Slattery have Mad Men shooting, he disappeared and was essentially replaced halfway through. Can this be sold with Bagger Vance as a motif in Damon’s career. Is Slovenia’s GNP possibly as low as 50 million (it’s 50 billion).

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