Unfinished Business full movie review - Portnoy's Unfinished Complaint or a Bromance sans Romance
Somebody asked a sculptor how he created a beautiful statue of a horse. He replied that he simply took a large block of marble and chipped away everything that didn't look like a horse.
This is also the approach in much of metalworking ? take a large sheet or cylinder of metal and cut away everything that doesn't look like the final product, which leaves large bins filled with swarf ? odd-shaped bits of scrap metal with sharp edges, covered with cutting oil. Like steel wool, much of the material oxidizes so easily that it's actually flammable. The sharp edges and metallic splinters make it difficult and dangerous to handle. It's dirty, greasy, rusty and composed of different metals and alloys, but has economic value as recyclable raw material.
Our protagonists are in the business of selling swarf and it is a wonderful allegory, for they are like the swarf they sell. One is not a team player, but must learn to be a team leader to succeed. One is past the mandatory age of retirement. One is a bit of an oddball, possibly borderline autistic, innocent to a fault, inexperienced but earnest and enthusiastic. They all have distracting issues with their families and sex lives.
However, as wonderful as the allegory may be, it may not help propel the plot. Recycling is a socially-conscious profession. Protagonists in several movies have been involved in recycling, including Kirk Douglas in "Greedy" and Jackie Chan in "Gorgeous." But it's not what one typically considers a glamorous profession involving a lot of international travel, complex financing deals or elaborate PowerPoint presentations by companies calling themselves Dynamic Progressive Systems or Apex Select.
"Unfinished Business" bombed at the box office, which is a shame because it does offer some interesting elements and solid performances. However, it is easy to understand why it was poorly received.
One reason is the dialogue, which is often clever and authentic, but incomprehensible. Consider an early statement by Vaughn's character Dan, "You know, Chuck, just because you caught me, which is, granted, a pretty big feat, in a trust fall at the company retreat, which you make us all go to and that I don't like, by the way, that nobody here really likes." It's a rambling run-on, like much of Vaughn's dialogue, but it's not even a sentence. There are half a dozen subordinate clauses, but where's the predicate? Not only does it not actually say anything, but it squanders an early opportunity to say more and obfuscates. Saying "you caught me" suggests the discovery of some impropriety, but he's actually referring to a trust game where people allow themselves to fall backwards, trusting a co- worker to catch them. The antagonist is a young, attractive woman who is a tough, shrewd and tenacious, named Chuck Portnoy. This may be an allusion to "Portnoy's Complaint," a novel in which "strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature," which also seems to encapsulate this movie's plot. She's referred to as simply Chuck, which adds a homoerotic twist to the underlying sexual tension between her and some of the male characters.
If the rambling dialogue isn't enough, there are words that Mike confuses, like "explers" for exploits, German phrases that aren't translated, many slang terms relating to foreign customs and unconventional sexual acts, business terms and other language that is largely inaccessible and confusing to the average viewer. To further complicate matters, is the use of "flügelschlagen," which is treated as if it has some profound meaning, but is confusing even to native German speakers who insist it has no meaning within the context of the film. It refers to a bird flapping its wings and has no relevance to GPS navigation or motivational theory.
Like "Portnoy's Complaint," the filmmakers address the sexual hang-ups of the three main characters in a manner that seems calculated to make the audience uncomfortable.
In one scene, Dan intrudes on a middle-aged woman at a co-ed steam bath. The camera displays various large bare breasts and a few large bare butts, but carefully avoids showing any genitals. The lady complains that Dan has brought his Western modesty into their place of openness and refuses to negotiate with him while he is inappropriately attired in a business suit and tie. Desperate to negotiate a concession, Dan strips and stands naked before her. The camera coyly frames part of Vince Vaughn's posterior and her breasts in a sort of low-angle over-the-shoulder shot. James Franco's character exclaims that he can see Dan's genitals, as if to emphasize to the audience that the filmmakers have carefully avoided showing any genitals in the scene. If they wanted to be coy, Dan could have just as easily tracked her down on a tennis court or at the beach. If they are going to make a huge point about the necessity of openness and fairness in negotiations, then the scene seems awkward in avoiding full frontal nudity.
In a later scene, the three find themselves in the men's room at a gay nightclub where the toilet stalls have glory holes (openings cut into the partitions for gay men seeking a Pyramus and Thisbe sort of encounter). Wikipedia actually has an article about glory holes. But instead of the holes being on partitions between stalls, allowing participants to engage in mutually anonymous encounters, the holes are on the doors, so that one participant is anonymous and the other is in the public area.
As one might expect, the scene is very weird. We've recently seen a scene where the filmmakers made us uncomfortable by avoiding any display of genitals and now we have a scene contrived to display genitals in an unexpected and unnatural manner. Another negotiation occurs in the men's room that has nothing to do with the standards established in the earlier scene.