The Company Men (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner
As we all have heard, if you drop a live frog into a boiling pot of water, it will immediately jump out. But drop the frog in unheated water, turn up the burner in increments, and the frog will boil alive none the wiser. But what happens if you never turn on the heat at all? And the frog just sits there in the water, sometimes blinking at you, sometimes splashing, ribbiting, but mostly ignoring you, inspecting nothing, neither enjoying itself nor trying to escape its situation, for about two hours? The Company Men similarly never even simmers. I don’t even think there is a frog. Three rich-as-balls white dudes get laid off and are forced to sell their Porches to pay their mortgages. Ben Affleck sends off his resume to a bunch of places, has a hard time getting any bites, but ultimately gets an interview, then gets a job. Chris Cooper commits suicide. Tommy Lee Jones makes good, pointless speeches. Everything happens against our characters, instead of the other way around, and they quickly dissolve into stereotypes. When his wife has just confessed to him that their son cannot play Xbox because they had to take it back to the store because they can’t afford an Xbox anymore, a frustrated Ben Affleck becomes… incrementally more frustrated. I wish I was joking when I say that if you read the previous sentence, I’ve just ruined the dramatic climax of the movie.
Lots of movies get a lot of undeserved praise because they purport to be about a pressing social issue. Thus the boring documentary bubble of recent years and its equally stillborn poetic counterpart, documentary poetics. Writers, filmmakers, artists—think themselves saints to create reductive, one-dimensional things because they know that from the Academy to the ghetto Americans will swallow whatever crap they’re fed, so long as it is lacquered in slime that flatters their moral sensibilities. Like a two hour John Cougar Mellencamp B-side, The Company Men ends on an up-note so unbelievable, after such a dramatically constipated script it’s like a blast of candied diarrhea in the face. As we prepare for the annual orgasm of the spined, eyeless demon raping American poetry—AWP—let us acknowledge openly the horror of the fact that we have allowed the superficial sheen of meaning—the endless readings, the boutique posture, the Brooklynization of art—to outshine genius language. If our lies are the only thing that can bring us together, these eyes won’t shed a tear when love tears us apart.