19 August 2012

First Impressions: The Campaign

The Campaign (2012) came out last week and made a strong case for funniest movie of the year, if 21 Jump Street (2012) hadn't clearly dominated that category a few months ago. From the obvious premise that politics and campaigns are stupid, this film proves itself successful.

In our preview for this film we talked at length about the contrasting personae of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and they mostly proved to be true. Both actors extrapolate their stock characters to the extreme and provide a wildly contrasting and hilarious film. Will Ferrell's basic character is the outrageous, loud, frat boy man-child. Translated as a politician, he becomes a Democrat with great hair who can't help but stick his dick into anything that moves. A lot of Will in this film is the classic corrupt and lazy career congressman - the drunkenness, the fighting, the horniness is all on display.

Zach, on the other hand, is the meek, oddball, obscure character who cries on a few occasions. He's wonderfully isolated and naïve and makes the film better as soon as he comes on screen. The film does a nice job of showing Will's tired schtick that extends to his characters' worn-out welcome. Zach really goes all out here and is supremely weird and entertaining - a classic outsider cajoling in on Will's well-established position. He's also a Republican, though part of the point of the film is that these distinctions don't matter at all.

You're a troublemaker!
There are a lot of great side characters lined up here. Jason Sudeikis is here again not really understanding what his comic persona should be and in that way he's basically classic Sudeikis. Katherine LaNasa is a superbabe as Will's wife. There's also appearances by Brian Cox, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd, all fairly underused but existing as evil powers behind the political throne. The real stand-out side character here, though, is Dylan McDermott as the insanely intense Tim Whattley.

With the hotness of Bryan Cranston right now, it's tough to believe that name is a coincidence. McDermott's Whattley is a hilariously dark, cool, determined campaign manager, who is apparently is also an evil interntional fugitive, possibly Dermot Mulroney. It's a weird case where he's clearly the straight man alongside the wacky Galifianakis in that he's much more serious, but he's so extreme that Zach is far more relatable. The film succeeds in leaning its deuteragonist structure towards Zach while Will is clearly the more villainous of the two politicians.

What this film is really about, besides the hilarity, is how crooked and insane political battles are. It's especially true in an age where both Democrats and Republicans are so entrenched that we're no longer in an Age of Dialogue. Obama and Romney exchange barbs at each other and at each others' support, but no one is really changing sides. No one gets an advantage and no one's mind is changed. The upcoming Presidential race will likely simply come down to how many counties Republicans can suppress black votes in.

As mentioned, though, in The Campaign, Will is a Democrat and Zach is Republican, but this doesn't matter at all. Campaigns aren't about positions or parties or anything that should matter. It only boils down to how likeable candidates can be. Politics, as is, has no part to play in a campaign. It's all about who can spin shooting their opponent or punching a baby the best in order to gain support. And that support is everything - these men will sacrifice everything they care to get it.

In the film, as Will loses his grip on sanity and Zach abandons every moral he had built up, it's clear that the only thing that matters is winning. In the end, both are well-rounded people enough to reject the system. This doesn't happen in real life. Politicians will do exactly that - sell out anything they can to advantageously position themselves. It's a nasty, dirty business and if anything, The Campaign lays that bare. Then again, as if we didn't already know that.

So what can we do? It's well known that the system is broken and no one knows how to fix it. The media often expresses this sentiment while feeding into the worst facets of its unruly brawling nature, with a 24-hour news cycle that more often feeds a need to watch trashy reality TV fighting rather than inspired political commentary.

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