Pop Friday: The CampaignAugust 24th, 2012
The Campaign is probably the most hilarious film I‘ve seen in a long time… but it’s also tragic because it’s just so true. Will Farrel as incumbent North Carolina Democrat Cam Brady goes head to head with Zach Galifianakis as naïve Republican challenger Marty Huggins. In the opening scene Cam reviews his talking points before a stump speech. He says, “America, Jesus and Freedom” but when his campaign manager asked what they mean he responds, “I have no idea, but people love it when I say it.” The foreground of the film is the war-is-hell escalation of an over the top cut-throat political campaign, which is laugh-out-loud funny. From Cam accusing Marty’s dogs of being Communists because pugs are a Chinese breed, to Marty releasing Cam’s 2nd Grade short story “Rainbow Land” and calling it a Communist Manifesto. For those who follow the political circus it will seem very familiar, with all the face-palms and head-shakes, and occasional mouth-gaping shock at some of the rhetorical excrement that falls out of their mouths. But the real truth telling is what’s going on behind the scenes in the campaign.
Spoiler alert, but again… if you follow politics, this will seem all too familiar.
The story begins when Cam’s 5 term streak running unopposed is on the rocks after a sex scandal damages public confidence in his Christian credentials. John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd playing the Motch brothers (I thought it was the “Marx brothers” until I saw it spelled. That would have been better.) see it as an opportunity to bank role some patsy so they can transplant their sweatshop from China to America and save on shipping. What they need, of course, is a willing dupe in congress who can help them wave the child labor laws so they can keep paying Chinese wages to the workers they’ll be “insourcing”. Marty doesn’t know it at first, but that’s the entire reason for his campaign. He’s set up with a secret agent like campaign manager (played by Dylan McDermott) to make him “not suck.” This transforms this marshmallowy goof ball into a real contender for the office.
As election day approaches, Marty meets with the nefarious Motch brothers and learns of their plan to sell his district to their Chinese business partner. Marty refuses to cooperate, and walks out of the meeting. So, the Motch brothers withdraw their financial support for Marty and give it to Cam. With the secret agent campaign manager in his corner, Cam goes up in the poles and victory seems certain. On the last day of the campaign, with only hours left, Marty makes a Hail Mary Pass. He broadcasts an impromptu public video exposing the Motch brothers’ shenanigans, offering the public a full confession of his role in it, and pledging himself as an honest candidate who will refuse any future donations from evil corporate moguls.
It appears to work. Marty is way up in the exit polling, but of course Cam still wins because the voting machines are manufactured by the Motch brothers. Cam approaches Marty to gloat, when Marty shows him the scars left from the rusty old playground slide they both played on as kids. Marty tells Cam that in grade school he voted for Cam for Class President because he got rid of the dangerous slide. Touched, Cam begins his acceptance speech with “I am a great politician… but a terrible congressman.” He offers his own confession to public and ultimately abdicates, letting Marty win by default. Once in congress Marty leads an investigation against the Motch brothers and their influence, ultimately having them carted off to jail.
The film’s real strength is its intricate weave of allusions to real politics. The Motch brothers are obviously the Kock brothers. Cam Brady’s wife Rose is a clear caricature of a young Hilary Clinton. During a campaign event Marty shoots Cam in the leg as a clear reference to Dick Cheney’s famous “hunting accident.” And all the while you are left with the feeling that the American people lose no matter who wins.
The films primary weaknesses are two. First, it’s not suitable for children. The escapades of the sex-crazed Cam Brady were over the top for me, including a romp with a groupie in a portable toilet, and actually seducing his opponent’s wife and releasing the sex-tape as a campaign ad. Second, its conclusion is completely implausible. That a career politician would suddenly be attacked by conscience and relinquish his power, and that a single inexperienced freshman congressman is going to storm Washington and disrupt the power structure.
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