How to know you're watching a serious grown-up movie for serious grown-ups:
1. George Clooney directed it.
2. George Clooney directed it and it's about politics.
3. George Clooney directed it and it's about politics and its title is one you have to Google if you're the guy who never paid attention in World History class or you don't watch enough Jeopardy. Oh, and it also stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti. Both of them. In the same movie. That's how to stack the serious grown-up deck. It might as well just be called The Academy Awards Movie.
In this serious grown-up movie Ryan Gosling is a young, hotshot campaign staffer for progressive presidential dream-candidate George Clooney. It's the Ohio primary and Gosling is firing on all pistons. He's great at his job and he puts all his heart into the campaign, an easily-sabotaged position referred to as "going all goosebumps" by one of the more cynical characters (aka everybody else on screen). Without ruining the slow-burn twists and turns of this dark journey through the evil underbelly of the political process, I can tell you that Gosling's integrity is tested by outside forces that throw his weaknesses down on the mat and stomp them until he cries "uncle."
It's bitterly entertaining to watch a man struggle to retain his soul, but if you decide to see it then it'll be less for that than because you're a fan of one or more of this respectable group of actors. It's a gang that also includes Marisa Tomei as a cold-eyed journalist and Evan Rachel Wood as the intern whose presence causes trouble for not only herself but also for more than one of the men. Clooney likes directing actors and you can tell. He gives them long scenes to work out for themselves -- Hoffman and Giamatti are especially good when given the space to stretch out and do their thing -- and he loves to shove the camera right up in their faces for the extreme close-up. That way the audience isn't allowed to pay attention to anything else. But because it's not loud, it's becomes a sort of reverse showiness, the actorly equivalent of the humble-brag.
More importantly, how do you know if the serious grown-up movie you're watching is really saying anything you haven't already learned for yourself from enduring actual American politics over the past few decades? The film presumes that you're both old enough and aware enough to have done that already, but if you have then you already know the bad news: that power usually leads to corruption; that journalists chase sensational stories and manipulate the news; that politicians lie, strike deals, stab one another in the back and sell out their friends. Worse, believing in anyone too much or expecting honorable behavior from the people you vote for will leave you feeling like a fool in the end. Yeah, bummer. You could stay home and watch the news for that message.
So keep the popcorn by your side and don't take it heart. You'll get enough of that misery come 2012 as it is.