The Campaign (review)
I’m “biast” (pro): love political satire; loving how audacious Will Ferrell has become
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
No one here in London — capital of the nation where members of Parliament are given a 30-minute timeslot once per week to shout at the Prime Minister, and it’s aired live on TV — seems to believe me when I tell them that the major “problem” with The Campaign is that it’s barely satirical. No one here can accept that American politics could be quite as absurd, quite as vicious, quite as cynical, quite as content-free as the (ostensibly) fictional North Carolina congressional race depicted in this bitter, brutal, and — unfortunately for the hopes and dreams of the American people — very very pointedly funny film. Will Ferrell (Casa de Mi Padre) deploys what is basically his George W. Bush impersonation again — no bad thing — as Congressman Cam Brady, who suddenly finds his previously unopposed reelection drive complicated by a public embarrassment fueled by his own arrogant idiocy and the subsequent arrival of an opponent: local tour guide and all-around doofus Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis: Puss in Boots). Huggins is the least likely political figure ever, which is all to the plan of rich bastards the Motch Brothers (John Lithgow [Rise of the Planet of the Apes] and Dan Aykroyd [War, Inc.]), who are bankrolling both candidates for nefarious and most definitely anti-American, pro-billionaire reasons of their own. (I wonder if screenwriters Chris Henchy [The Other Guys] and Shawn Harwell don’t know that their obvious inspiration, real-life political manipulators the Koch Brothers, pronounce their name “Coke,” or if they merely think we all believe it’s pronounced “Kotch.”) The phoniness of political campaigns and the politicians they promote is the primary target here, from the “civility brunch” to bring the candidates together that is nothing of the sort, to Brady’s faking his way through a Lord’s Prayer that he clearly does not know as a way to prove his Jesus-lovin’ bona fides, to the hilarious deadpan turn by Dylan McDermott (The Messengers) as a scarily slick campaign advisor who is all about getting his candidate clients to project focus-grouped fakery. Underscoring the ludicrous is a remarkable brand of gentle that makes this radically different from other Hollywood comedies: director Jay Roach (Dinner for Schmucks) treats Huggins and his oddball family with a kindness that does not typically accompany such broad humor. Then again, this ferocious movie is not about inflicting personal humiliation, Hollywood’s usual comedic aim, but cultural: we should be mortified, as a nation, that our civic culture has come to this.