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Game Change (2012)

May 23, 2012

MY CALL:  Lots of well-quipped laughs.  Love Woody Harrelson.  Love Julianne Moore.  Love this satire! [A]  IF YOU LIKE THIS, THEN WATCHRecount (2008), Margin Call (2011) and Too Big to Fail (2011).  And while we’re pulling the curtain on backstage politics, how about The Ides of March (2011).

Ed Harris (Man on a Ledge), as always, does a fine job playing a more-likable-than-reality John McCain running in the 2008 presidential election.  I’m not taking a jab at McCain so much as suggesting that the writers and director allowed Ed Harris to be as charismatic as Ed Harris, rather than the rash McCain who described Obama as “a man who has no major life accomplishments…beating an American hero by double digits…simply sailing on his charisma and star power.”  McCain’s campaign team is horrified that “this guy [Obama] is raising money like he’s some sort of a human ATM machine.”  The use of campaign stock footage presents Obama as exactly what we all saw during the campaign while meta-analyzing Harris as McCain.

HBO has a strong resume when it comes to non-theatrical films.  Cinema Verite (2011), depicting reality television before there was reality television, captivated viewers leaving them gasping over a time before Snooki and “The Situation” were poisoning television with alcoholic tendencies, recreational steroid abuse and Jersey-Italian grammar.  Recount (2008) managed to tickle both humorous and strong political senses.  I’m not suggesting that HBO’s filmmakers didn’t clearly have a biased (anti-Palin/McCain) agenda in this story, but they did an excellent job of pulling back the curtain and revealing the Great and powerful Oz; the demons mitigating the reality of how our political system functions and the campaign designs architected for their circumvention.  Such vexing reality is painted with lines like “Lieberman is the right thing to do but the wrong way to win…none of these middle-aged white guys are game changers.”  The solution: “So find me a woman.”  Perhaps aiming closer to satire than history, this is handled by a Google search complemented by viewing speeches on YouTube—as if the campaign team had no clue about any of these women.

Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Friends with Benefits,  The Hunger Games), wandering somewhat askew of his normally beaten path of sarcastic and histrionic humor, does an exemplary job playing McCain’s media-damage-controlling campaign manager, Steve Schmidt.  The humor is all in the situations and Woody delivers them with a straight face that keeps me smiling whenever he has screen time.  He always seems a bit nervous supporting the notion of Palin, a high-risk/high-reward nobody who is “so outside the box that she’ll help [McCain] recapture the Maverick label,” all the while credibly serving as her Jedi Master offering guidance and tenets of political success.

As the moose-hunting, mother-of-five Sarah Palin, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, The Kids Are all Right) amazes as usual.  While being admonished of the frequent, harsh, unfair examination her private life would undergo she simply smiles glibly, explaining that the Alaska primary was “pretty rough, too.”  Her speeches’ fur-ruffling feminism, considerate attention to small towns and special needs children, and family ideals are tinglingly uplifting—so much, in fact, that we momentarily forget where this movie will inevitably lead us.  A momentary interaction between Palin and a mother of a Down’s syndrome child even broke me to tears; in the movie she practically had my vote (early in the movie, anyway).   She starts to win the campaign team’s belief that they can actually win…all except for Nicole Wallace (Sarah Paulson), who quietly dreads that what Palin doesn’t know will serve as rat poison to the campaign.

I’m half surprised they didn’t go for Tina Fey.  But I guess no one would have taken this seriously with all of the SNL skits behind her.

But now it seems that Julianne Moore could play Tina Fey if the need should ever arise.

Not knowing why North Korea and South Korea are different countries or what the FED is, believing the Queen of England to be the head of British government, and that Saddam Hussein attacked the USA on 9/11—Palin requires high school-level history lessons and explanations of recent current events to stand her ground in interviews.  Deeper in the race the expressions of campaign personnel, once awestruck by the podium words of a strong woman, have been distorted to expressions of horror; horror of the child-like ignorance Palin has for even the most basic concepts of the government and history of American history.  Woody Harrelson is eating a grapefruit during a scene in which Palin is being prepped…I’ve never seen an actor make a grapefruit look so painful to eat.  These scenes are soul-crushing.

What…?

I endorse this political satire very much and would like to close with a few not-yet-mentioned favorite quotes:

“It’s not that she doesn’t know the answer.  It’s that she clearly doesn’t understand the question.”

“She’s a great actress, right?  Why don’t we just give her some lines.”

Debacle after debacle… “If John McCain wins, then this woman will be one 72-year old man’s heartbeat away from being the president of the United States.”

It doesn’t end pretty for this overwhelmed, ill-prepared Alaskan.

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