Our Brand Is Crisis is a smart new comedy that brilliantly satirizes the privatization of resources by multi-national corporations under the guise of progress and hahaha I’m just kidding, it’s cynical schmaltz where the true story of American political consultants getting paid to influence a Bolivian election is given all the nuance of Sandra Bullock mooning Billy Bob Thornton out a bus window.
I made a Blind Side joke about how “those Bolivians’re changin’ Sandra Bullock’s lahfe” after I saw the trailer, but even I wasn’t pessimistic enough to think that could sum up the entire movie. Oh, but it does. It totally does. Politics as bloodsport? The exportation of disinformation campaigns? Misguided paternalism as foreign policy? Who cares! The important thing is that plucky lady learned to feel!
In 2005’s Our Brand Is Crisis, from documentarian Rachel Boynton, James Carville’s consulting firm gets hired to swing a Bolivian election toward an ex-president. They “go negative” and succeed in siphoning votes away from the front runner, but in the process pave the way for the eventual election of a different candidate, Evo Morales (some might argue doing the world a solid in the process, if completely by accident).
The question so rudely posed by producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov (and director David Gordon Green, though it feels like he’s just working for hire) here is, how do we turn this into a story that’s all about the Americans, yet still makes us feel like the Americans are the good guys at the end? Really Argo this f*cker up, so to speak.
The answer, it appears, was to stick Sandra Bullock in it. And have her play the lovable, hard-nosed, but with a heart of gold political consultant seeking redemption. Meaning we basically get The Proposal Sandy, who shows up in Bolivia with “altitude sickness” (ha ha!) that makes her barf during important political meetings (hee hee!) and scarf tortilla chips by the truck full (ho ho!). I was convinced that at any second, a llama was going to steal her Blackberry (My whole life was in there!).
Also, we see her making pottery in the first scene (because she likes to *mold* candidates, get it???), which is neither this film’s last nor its worst awful third-grader metaphor.
The point is, taking a story like Our Brand Is Crisis and stuffing it full of jokes about Sandra Bullock being, like, such a frazzled workaholic is like flying all the way to Bolivia to eat McDonald’s cheeseburgers for every meal. We’ve seen all this sh*t before. And it kinda sucked the first time around.
Just once I want to see a character in a movie referencing the IMF’s predatory lending practices where it ISN’T just a prop to teach the American protagonist a valuable life lesson. The Bolivian peasantry essentially function as a collective magical negro here. This movie honestly expects us to root for the amoral political consultant solely because she’s played by Sandra Bullock. You go, white lady! Way to learn that lesson.
The beauty of Argo was that for all the BS flourishes (the runway scene, oy), at its core it really is a feel-good, rah-rah America story. Our Brand is Crisis is not a feel-good American story. It could be a biting, screwball satire, but for that to happen, it really needs Sandra Bullock not to be the good guy. But they don’t trust us (or her) enough to accept America’s Sweetheart in the Kelsey Grammer role in Pentagon Wars, so instead we get a movie that hinges on whether Sandy can stop puking long enough to stick it to that jerk Billy Bob.
Guys, guys, guys — honestly, who cares? Why would you go all the way to Bolivia and toss around all these big ideas only to give us a cookie-cutter Sandra Bullock vehicle? It’s not the most painful movie to sit through, but by the time Sandra Bullock learns her lesson and the music swells to let us know that this is a triumphant moment, you can’t believe they’d have the balls. Sorry, I can’t feel sympathy towards a person who had to cause a third world coup in order to learn basic decency. Our Brand Is Crisis is the kind of movie that really makes you want to stand up and throw a head of lettuce at the screen.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.