By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features Film Critic
“Miss Sloane” is not only an irritatingly simplistic movie that thinks it’s smart, but one that takes place in some strange alternate reality where politicians have shame, lobbyists have consciences and a hunky hooker has a heart of gold.
Jessica Chastain is the icy, insomniac, pill-popping and prostitute-procuring title character, a high-level workaholic at a lobbying firm that has just taken on an NRA-like entity as a very top-dollar client. After literally laughing in the face of that organization’s head at the prospect of creating a women-for-guns campaign, Sloane departs for a pro-gun-control “boutique” firm that embodies every bad-TV David-vs.-Goliath cliché. Earnestly committed Rodolfo Schmidt (Mark Strong) leads an eager, diverse and bright-eyed team of 20-somethings there with patriarchal patience, impressed by Sloane’s skill set if a little worried that she might Go Too Far. Which, of course, she does.
Everyone speaks in rapid-fire complete sentences that are so ridiculously didactic, sermonizing or expository that the whole affair comes off like Aaron Sorkin writing a mashup of “The West Wing” and “50 Shades of Grey” on a coke binge. There’s also a lot of shouting in offices, of course.
In the movie’s framing scenes, John Lithgow is good as a corrupt U.S. senator who has Sloane on the hot seat at a congressional hearing looking into an incriminating document with Sloane’s handwriting on it. Because, sure, that’s really likely. In what may be the movie’s most unintentionally laugh-out-loud moment, he initially was reluctant to call such a hearing because they cost a lot of public funds. What’s even more preposterous is a scene in which an elected representative who has been bought off by the gun lobby is shamed into reversing that position because of a single on-camera question about his previous stance.
Michael Stuhlbarg, who is popping up in more movies lately than Samuel L. Jackson (he’s also in this month’s “Doctor Strange” and “Arrival”), is a former Sloane associate out to ruin her for jumping ship. Resembling a young Grandpa Munster and with an almost cartoonish nastiness, he sneers his way through encounters such as a conference room showdown and a live TV debate.
Alison Pill plays Sloane’s big-glasses-blond former assistant like a slightly wised-up Elle Woods from “Legally Blonde.” Gugu Mbatha-Raw is Sloane’s big-eyed new second-in-command with a soon to be exploited secret. Boring Sam Waterston perfectly embodies Sloane’s pompously imperious ex-boss.
Director John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”) seems intent on making most of the cast deliver their logorrheic lines as if they’re in a screwball comedy crossed with “A Few Good Men,” which isn’t a winning combination.
Although Chastain does her best with the achingly unbelievable title character, Sloane is such an expressionless high-energy motormouth that her rare displays of anything resembling humanity are unconvincing. Her hotel liaisons with a pay-for-play stud (Jake Lacy) feel embarrassingly contrived by screenwriter Jonathan Perera to shove some sex stuffing into this Thanksgiving turkey, and a final twist is so silly it’s insulting.
“Miss Sloane” is one to miss.