In the Loop, which was picked up for U.S. release by IFC at Sundance, seemed tailor-made for easy summations: "It's The Office meets The West Wing," the early-screening set said, along with raving endorsements about how funny In the Loop actually was. And the latter part of that was proven right when I saw In the Loop at Sundance; it's achingly, wrenchingly, dizzyingly funny, with a bleak, bitter sense of humor that makes each laugh feel like the people behind In the Loop are not so much tickling your funny bone as they are going at it with an ice pick.
And yes, In the Loop has the handheld-yet-slightly-too-steady camerawork of The Office, where the comedy of uncomfortable silence builds and builds as the camera lingers and stays on, and it also has the petty rivalries and silly squabbles of The Office; it seems that whether you're selling paper or pushing it, work is work. And In the Loop also has the insider-y, rushed feeling of The West Wing, where many scenes are done as a walk-and-talk and we're reminded that they talk about the corridors of power because that's usually where the deals get cut.
But In the Loop also transcends those easy comparisons, and does so to great effect. The idea that government is as messy and petty and foolish as any other workplace is scary, and funny; the insider's view of politics in it isn't warm walk-and-talk idealism but the ugly, mean pragmatism of the stalk-and-talk, or even the prowl-and-growl. On the surface level, In the Loop is The Office meets The West Wing, sure; what it winds up feeling more like is as if John Cleese and George Orwell wrote Dr. Strangelove for our media-soaked age where wars are conducted in part through press releases and focus groups, or Catch-22 for the 24/7 news era.