I’m floundering in an ocean disbelief!
I never thought it could happen.
But it did.
And to me.
I saw a movie starring Will “I’m-Always-Yelling” Ferrell. And I actually liked it. Worse yet, I liked him in it. As soon as I left the theater, I contemplated driving directly to the ER for a complete battery of tests to evaluate my sanity. But then I came my senses, remembered how much I hate and fear hospitals, took a deep breath, and faced reality: “The Campaign,” starring Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, is a terrifically effective political satire featuring a couple of wonderful performances. And — Dare I say it? — it’s a comedy that is actually funny.
Ferrell plays Cam Brady, a four-term incumbent congressman from a small district in North Carolina, who is running unopposed for a fifth term. His catch phrase is “America, Jesus, Freedom,” and he has a trophy wife (Katherine LaNasa), an adorable daughter (Madison Wolfe), and a hot mistress (Kate Lang Johnson). Life is good for Cam, and he harbors aspirations of someday running for vice president. His re-election sans opposition looks like a lock, but then he makes a very stupid mistake (No, I won’t spoil it.), and his poll numbers plummet.
Now that Cam no longer looks so unbeatable, two wealthy brothers, Wade (Dan Akroyd) and Glenn (John Lithgow) Motch, decide to find a candidate who might be able to defeat Cam and advance their own diabolical political agenda. Their choice is Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a milquetoast who heads up the tourism center in his small hometown.
Initially everyone thinks Marty’s candidacy is a complete joke, but when the Motch boys hire the dastardly Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to run the campaign, Cam suddenly finds that he has a fight on his hands. And as the day of the election approaches, the two men are locked in a virtual dogfight.
This film could not be any timelier because this country is on the brink of a presidential election, and it pulls no punches about the often ruthlessly vicious and disgustingly vile campaign tactics employed by political candidates. In the film’s production notes, producer Adam McKay (“Saturday Night Live”) explained the source of the film’s humor.
“The funniest thing about the movie is that so much of it rings true. You’re going to see a lot of ridiculous accusations, a voicemail message gone horribly astray, a giant rally with fireworks and dancing cheerleaders, and a candidate for Congress flying down a wire like a rock star. It’s going to look insane and over-the-top. Then, in the weeks afterward, you may notice things in the news that aren’t so far removed and realize it’s not all so crazy after all. Watch this movie, then look at what actually goes on, and you might think, ‘Holy crap!'”
This movie absolutely exposes everything about political campaigning that makes it so repulsive from the trash talking to the exorbitant expenditures to the backbiting to the name-calling to the lying and cheating. Nothing is sacred in this film. I don’t want to spoil the movie by revealing what happens in some of the many great scenes, but I can tell you to pay particular attention to the debate segments, and the two scenes set the dinner table are absolutely priceless. I think this film should be mandatory viewing for every politician in the world.
Actually, in addition to being quite funny, the movie is somewhat disturbing because it shows just how low people running for political office are capable of stooping to get what they want. Some of their tactics are beyond loathsome.
Ferrell and Galifianakis deliver superb performances in their respective roles. Ferrell is perfectly cast as the brash, arrogant, loud-mouthed (naturally) incumbent with an ego the size of Texas. In the production notes Ferrell offered the analysis of the film and his character.
“One of the things the story makes fun of is the amount of money that can be poured into elections and how much influence it can have. The district these guys are fighting over is a relatively small one, unimportant on the larger stage, but, for the powers that circle it, it’s vital for their business interests and therefore worth a great deal to them.
“He’s (Cam) an expert at saying nothing, with that super-polished way politicians have in responding to questions with statements like, ‘Thank you very much for your concern,’ or ‘I appreciate your carving out 15 minutes of your day to come down here to speak about the problems we all face,’ and then not actually providing an answer. It was so much fun to adopt those speech patterns.”
And whereas the character of Marty is concerned, Galifianakis, who manages to establish and sustain an outrageous accent throughout the film, offered this in the production notes.
“Marty is a bit of a simpleton. He runs a tourist office in a town that gets maybe four visitors a year. But he’s very happy with his life, and he’s proud of his town. He’s a little weird, too, in ways that are probably better left unexamined, but you sense that he has a good heart.”
In addition to Ferrell and Galifianakis, all of the supporting players were outstanding, and this is particularly true of McDermott, whose turn as the devilish Wattley is at once frightening and funny. And the movie also features a number of great cameos including those by Wolf Blitzer, Piers Morgan, Dennis Miller, and Bill Maher.
Be forewarned, however, that the film is rated R for plenty of profanity (Do you think politicians really use the infamous F bomb?) and some sexual situations. But all of this fits in perfectly with the film’s overall purpose of satirizing political campaigning. As one who finds the whole process despicable, I thought “The Campaign” (Give it a shocking eight.) really put everything in perspective, and I leave you with the words of director Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”), who dropped the following pearls of wisdom in the production notes.
“I think comedy is the correct response to politics these days. At least it gives you something to laugh about and makes the reality of it easier to swallow, whereas if you just watch the news it can be pretty scary. Looking at some of today’s election campaigns, I don’t know if this is what our founding fathers had in mind.”