Long Shot (2019)

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I look like Cap’n Crunch’s Grindr date! Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) is a daring if shambling journalist favouring the Democrats who has a knack for getting into trouble. We meet him infiltrating a White Power group where he gets identified as a Jewish leftwing writer and he jumps out a first-floor window to escape their wrath halfway through getting a Swastika tattoo. Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is one of the most influential women in the world – the US Secretary of State, a smart, sophisticated and accomplished politician who needs to up her ratings to succeed her boss, TV star President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). Her polling improves every time she’s photographed with the goofy Canadian Prime Minister (Alexander Skarsgard) as she’s counselled to do at every opportunity by her advisor Maggie (June Diane Raphael). When Fred unexpectedly runs into Charlotte at a party his best friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr) takes him to after he’s left his Brooklyn alt-weekly following a takeover by the repulsive mogul Parker Wembly (Andy Serkis), he finds himself in the company of his former baby sitter and childhood crush. When Charlotte decides to make a run for the presidency she hires Fred as her speechwriter to up the funny factor – much to the dismay of her entourage as she’s embarking on a world tour to persuade leaders to sign up to her programme to save The Bees, The Trees and The Seas and he joins them on the road …  I’m a racist. You’re a Republican. I don’t know what is wrong with me. As a product of the adolescent house of Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg you might think this had a gross out element and it does – any film that could have its leading man ultimately labelled The Come Guy has taken a turn in that direction (hence the title). But it’s the getting there that is astonishingly well put together. The stereotypes here are all too recognisable: the woman who can handle herself, and the man who … handles himself in a very particular way; the WASPy politician who has to deal with a doofus Commander in Chief who himself takes his cues from his TV show as the US President (Odenkirk is very good) along with a toothy Canadian jerk PM (Skarsgard sportingly sports buck teeth) similarly looking for a viable political romance, not to mention the hourly misogyny dealt her by an astonishingly sexist TV channel;  the shabbily dressed leftwing Jewish journo (in another time he’d have been part of the counterculture) who learns the hard way that maturing requires a deal of compromise which he only realises when his best friend admits he’s not just a Republican – but a Christian to boot – and then has the lightbulb moment that he is in his own way a racist and a sexist, everything he despises. Therefore beneath this very funny, role-reversing political comedy about two people who want the impossible – a relationship of equals – is a plea to see things from the other side’s point of view.  He needs to grow up, she needs to be reminded of the passionate truth-teller she used to be so they both teach each other valuable lessons. The big political crisis is solved after Fred has given Charlotte her first taste of MDMA (she thinks it’s called The Molly) so that a hostage-taking disaster is averted when she’s off her skull. This is very much of its time, the potshots are relevant and smart if obvious, the sex scenes are hilarious (she has a better time, quicker, and apologises, just like a guy), and the timing is exquisite. And no, it’s not the intellectual wordfest of The West Wing nor does it attempt the kind of fireworks we might wish for from the classic Thirties screwballs but it has its own rhythm and nuance with flawless performances even if the satire isn’t as up to the second as we require in the Twitterverse. There is, though, a teal rain jacket and those Game of Thrones references. Principally it works because of its humanity but it also ploughs a furrow of Nineties nostalgia – bonding over Roxette and Boyz II Men – as well as boasting an environmental message and emitting a howl against media conglomerates and rightwing hatemongers. At its centre is a couple trying to make things work while working together in a horribly public situation with the politics regularly giving way to charming encounters where the stars play against type. That’s clever screenwriting, by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. Deftly directed by Jonathan Levine, this epitomises all that is right, left and wrong about the American political scene with a hugely optimistic message at its core about the State of the Union. Highly entertaining with an awesome Theron taking charge. We totally almost just died

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The Candidate (1972)

The Candidate

Any man running for the Senate has to want something.  Without a candidate to run for the California senate seat against admired Republican Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter), Democrat campaign manager Marvin Lucas (Peter Boyle) recruits charismatic leftist lawyer and environmental activist Bill McKay (Robert Redford). His father is the former State Governor John (Melvyn Douglas) and it’s doubtful he’s going to turn out for his son. McKay’s appearance piques the public’s interest despite his own contempt for anything bar conveying the major issues of the day – poverty, race, pollution. He hasn’t a hope and is as cynical as the team running him so he can just say what he wants. But as he becomes more popular Lucas pushes McKay toward a more palatable centrist message. As McKay’s original and honest platform gets watered down and he sleeps with a groupie, his liberal ideas vanish, and his original take on politics becomes generic and repetitive. His popularity increases so much that he is running even with Jarmon as Election Day approaches and his father backs him as he seems to be gaining the swing voteVote once vote twice on election day for Bill McKay! Redford re-teamed with his Downhill Racer director Michael Ritchie to make this scathing satire of political campaigning and it was partly inspired by Ritchie’s time working for the 1970 campaign of Senator John V. Turney. Jeremy Larner’s screenplay is smart:  he had been speechwriter for Senator Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 Presidential run so the action and the attitudes reek of authenticity. Redford is ideal as a poster boy politician in an image-based campaign as he succumbs to the corrupting lure of attention. As a snapshot of the frustration of the era (Vietnam only comes up once in debate) it still has traction today. What do we do now?

 

 

 

Our Brand is Crisis (2015)

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Taking a comical look at the US’s interfering with the electoral process in South America is a big leap from pure comedy into cutting edge satire:  not something for which either screenwriter Peter Straughan or director David Gordon Green are known. This version of a 2002 election in Bolivia which saw James Carville’s company deployed to get a problematic President Pedro Gallo (Joaquim de Almeida) re-elected is somewhat botched both in concept and execution. Sandra Bullock is the anchor of this mismanaged screenplay as the alcoholic depressive retired consultant drafted in to help defeat Victor Rivera, who’s being advised by her arch-rival, Billy Bob Thornton. They have history. It’s not pleasant. She suffers brutal altitude sickness and believes the candidate is hopeless until she pulls out her Machiavelli handbook and gets to work. There’s some fun – physical and verbal – but it’s not really sharp enough to score points. It substitutes a soft centre for what should have been scathing political commentary. And the cinematography is horrible.