Forget Best Screenplay—Here are the Best F*!@ing Insults from In The Loop

February 26, 2010 at 11:36 am (hear, watch)

Warning: This will get lewd. But how can you talk about the dizzyingly funny and wildly vulgar political satire In the Loop, nominated for best adapted screenplay, without language that would make Howard Stern blush?

In the run-up to the March 7th Oscars, there has been much discussion about performances, direction, best picture chances, ex-husband-and-wife rivalries—and very little about screenplays. As the only adapted screenplay nominee that did not receive a Best Picture nomination as well, In the Loop has been overshadowed by films like Precious and Up in the Air, but it may be my favorite movie of the year, and is certainly the one that most delights in language.

Most of it is foul language, to be sure. But oh, what foul language! Insults are often dumb, easy and cheap—we’ll spew the first crude things that come to mind in the heat of anger or frustration. But four letter words and bro-speak like “douchebag” simply can’t express the wide range of ways in which a person can be contemptible, disappointing or idiotic. Hearing sublime wit and style applied to the art of the insult made me cackle with glee.

The act of insulting may be immature, but In the Loop brings grown-up flair to its “fuck-off”s. The insults (some too complex to be satisfying in out-of-context quotes) reveal an ear for rhythm, a stand-up’s mastery of the set-up and punchline, pop culture literacy, historical knowledge and, centrally, an understanding of political manipulations as fodder for screwball comedy. Malcolm Tucker, the Prime Minister’s director of communications and the source of most of the verbal abuse, deploys his sharp tongue with a shrink’s incisive knowledge of others’ vulnerabilities.

Given that this is a British movie, the musicality and formality of British English, not to mention its cultural history, provide multiple jokes. In talking to a staffer for low-level cabinet minister Simon Foster, who is upset because she was not informed of a media appearance that falls within her purview, Tucker explodes: “Within your ‘purview’? Where do you think you are, some fucking regency costume drama? This is a government department, not some fucking Jane fucking Austen novel! Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up your shitter with a lubricated horse cock!”

(For more Austen-bashing, admire Mark Twain’s verve: “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin bone.” This quote appears in last fall’s Poisoned Pens: Literary Invective from Amis to Zola, a compilation of famous authors’ fighting words that similarly celebrates impressive smackdowns.)

As with “jaunty little bonnet,” In the Loop revels in creative descriptions. When Tucker complains about a War Committee meeting with a very young State Department aide, he rants, “His briefing notes were written in alphabetti spaghetti. When I left, I nearly tripped up over his fucking umbilical cord.” And “lubricated horse cock” is only the tip of the iceberg of the film’s animal imagery: Tucker is called a “poodlefucker,” an aide smells like “a pissed seaside donkey,” a staffer in hot water is “lobsterising,” a State Department official is “an excitable, yapping she-dog” and an American staffer is warned: “You get sarcastic with me again and I will stuff so much cotton wool down your fucking throat it’ll come out your arse like the tail on a Playboy bunny.”

From start to finish, bonnet to arse, In the Loop is a linguistic masterwork. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it now. And if you want to further admire the writers’ achievement, you can download the whole script.

So here’s hoping that the Oscar goes to Armando Iannucci, who also directed the film, and his three co-writers, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. Just imagine the acceptance speech they’ll give.


1 Comment

  1. Doug Sherrard said,

    Nice write up and I totally agree. Great film and a screenplay second to none in my opinion.

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