No science fiction writer has had as many of his works adapted for film as Philip K. Dick. It’s unfortunate that the majority of those films have been terrible. The Adjustment Bureau is the latest of the great sci-fi visionaries works to make it to the big screen, and although it’s certainly lacking in the kind of ambition that often made Dick’s work so wonderful, it is a fun movie. It’s not reinventing the wheel, and it’s not going to set the world on fire becoming a cultural phenomenon, but it succeeds at the goals it sets out for itself more than it fails.

David Norris is a political wonder boy. The youngest person ever elected to the House of Representatives, he’s now running for the Senate. It seems he’s destined to win, until a newspaper releases photos of him making a drunken ass out of himself at a college reunion by mooning some old frat brothers. On the night of the election, when it becomes clear he’s going to lose very badly, basically a landslide, he goes to write his concession speech. He wanders into a secluded mens bathroom in the hotel where his campaign is headquartered for the evening, and begins the unenviable task, after loudly asking if anyone else is in there. Laboriously trudging through his work, Norris is finishing his speech when a young woman comes out of one of the stalls. And this is how David Norris meets Elise Sellas, throwing the trajectory of both of their into a tailspin, altering both of their destinies.

And in short, that’s what this film is about, fighting one’s destiny. The central plot element surrounds the idea that destiny is controlled, and that it’s controlled by The Adjustment Bureau. When your life deviates or seems as if it might deviate from the plan it is supposed to follow, the films suggests it’s this shadowy group of semi-supernatural folks who step in to set it back on the path that’s been laid out for you. David Norris and Elise Sellas are not supposed to be together. Unfortunately, David Norris isn’t interested in going along with that plan.

George Nolfi manages to keep it light on the metaphysics, which is all for the best in this case. There’s a quasi-religious aspect of the story that if more heavily laid on would have become the kind of sluggish exercise in expositional tedium that good science fiction literature is often saddled with when made into film. This isn’t a film that needs to have all of this too heavily explained and I think Nolfi in both his screenplay and his directing is smart enough to tread lightly in that territory. He explains what he absolutely has to, when he absolutely has to, and when explanation isn’t necessary, he sticks with the films real assets, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.

Matt Damon’s real talent is that it’s extremely easy to relate to him. He brings that talent to this film as well as he has any other before it. Even while playing the new golden boy of American politics, it’s easy to believe him, to relate to him, and eventually to sympathize and root for him. Very few people will ever actually experience the kind of precipitous rise and fall that Damon’s character does in the film, but we’re with him the entire way, because of his extremely affable and sympathetic demeanor. But, Matt Damon’s talents would be completely wasted without someone of at least equal talent for his character to develop this connection with. This relationship and it’s “chemistry” are the reason for the entire film, so if we don’t buy it, it doesn’t work.

I’d venture to say that Emily Blunt is the reason the film does work. As much as I like Matt Damon and his previous work, in thinking about it after sitting through the film, Emily Blunts character shouldn’t have been anything special. The writing is decent, she’s not a damsel in distress character and she’s given a few of the films best lines, but Blunt brings this character to life in a very real way that feels spontaneous and sincere. Her character is more or less a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s actually grown up and developed a professional dance career. Part of the problem with her character having met and developed this connection with Damon’s character is the degree to which her influence on him causes him to be more impulsive than his “plan” allows for. That’s an old story and a staple of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character (think Kate Winslett in Eternal Sunshine from a Spotless Mind or Natalie Portman in Garden State). Emily Blunt makes the character much more real than that and she has a sense of real strength and character, where as the majority of MPDG characters come across as paper thin, fragile and simply unreal. I can’t think of another opportunity she’s gotten to play a regular, modern woman, and Emily Blunt really shines in the role.

The Adjustment Bureau is a light, fun film that works in part because it’s foundations in the literature it’s based on are strong, and partly because it’s smart enough not to wade too deeply into that morass in a film that’s supposed to reach a wide audience. It’s probably going to disappoint avid fans of Philip K. Dicks literature, but so far, I don’t think there has been a film that didn’t disappoint them, so they’re used to it. For those who are looking for a fun date film, this is a good one that’s going to be forgettable, but isn’t offensive in it’s stupidity or condescension.

Get a look at the trailer over at IMDB.

You can get ticket to a showing in your area at Fandango.

I’ve been writing about film for about ten years now. The latest incarnation of that passion, where more of my reviews can be found is called Bleed For It.

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