Aug 15 2012
It’s political season, and you really don’t have to go to the movies if you want to laugh. Though watching our real-life elections, you’ll probably just be laughing to keep yourself from crying.
The Campaign? It’s actually funny, even if underneath its screwball comedy layers is a very dark message about the state of politics in America today.
Will Ferrell shows that he’s still got a few great characters in him, and Zach Galifianakis proves that his “weirdo” persona can take a variety of interesting forms.
“America, Jesus, Freedom”
Ferrell is Cam Brady, a congressman from North Carolina who’s something of an amalgam of John Edwards (the hair and the affair) and Ferrell’s own George W. Bush. Brady has run unopposed for several terms now, but when scandal threatens to undermine him, his big money backers, the Moch brothers (Dan Akryod and John Lithgow), decide to back a different horse, Galifianakis’s Marty Huggins.
Huggins is an oddball to the third degree with an affinity for pugs and horribly fitting sweater vests. He’s the son of a prominent businessman, but the film doesn’t devote much time to explaining why exactly it is that he’s the only choice in town. On the surface, the mailman would appear to be more qualified.
Koch throws millions into his run for office so he can enact their polices once he gets to Congress. They saddle him with the sharkish campaign manager Tim (Dylan McDermott) who turns Huggins from a fanny-pack wearing goof to a lean, mean political machine.
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
The film serves as very obvious commentary on the dismal state of politics in this country. Going in you may assume the seasoned Cam is going to be the one on the attack for the duration, but under the guidance of the Mochs, it’s Huggins who hits harder. He questions Cam’s ability to be a father, and demands that he publicly recite the Lord’s prayer on stage at a debate. Because of course, that’s a qualification for office.
The constant pressure causes Cam to lose it completely, and the film escalates to a point where the phrase “sex tape campaign ad” is born. You’ll see.
There are a lot of good jokes to be found in here, and Cam’s unfortunate ability to accidentally punch things he shouldn’t, like children and small animals, is hilarious. After a series of lackluster Ferrell roles, this really is a good one for him, as vapid politician fits like a glove. The same can be said for Galifianakis, who can do odd duck better than anyone out there today.
The main point of the film goes past negative campaign ads however, it’s about the true evil of politics: money. The Moch brothers, for anyone remotely familiar with the American political landscape, are stand-ins for the very real Koch brothers, two billionaires who fund candidates all across the country, and have bankrolled much of the Tea Party movement itself. Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision mentioned briefly by the film itself in the closing credits, allowed corporations to donate unlimited funds to groups (called PACs) that can then use the money to support any candidate without ever having to reveal who they are. In contrast, ordinary citizens are only allowed to personally contribute a few thousand at most a campaign.
Corporations are people and money is free speech.
The film takes aim at the Kochs so directly, they actually responded to it through their spokesperson saying, ““Last we checked, the movie is a comedy. Maybe more to the point is that it’s laughable to take political guidance or moral instruction from a guy who makes obscene gestures with a monkey on a bus in Bangkok.”
You know when you make two billionaires actually start trying to rip on a comedian, a nerve has been hit, and the film is an unashamed, unrelenting assault on the pair of them.
Unfortunately, I’m guessing about 98% of the people heading to see The Campaign won’t have any idea who the Kochs are, and will still be clueless once they leave the theater. It’s not a bad statement to make, but the point will be lost on many who just came to see Ferrell and Galifiankis call each other names.
But it does both effectively. It’s hilarious, and has a somewhat important point to make as well. We might not have sex tape campaign ads yet, but it sure doesn’t seem like we’re all that far off.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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