Monday, January 14, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Game Change (2012) **

TV-MA, 118 min.
Director: Jay Roach
Writers: Danny Strong, Mark Halperin (book), John Heilemann (book)
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, Peter MacNicoll, Jamey Sheridan, Sarah Paulson, Ron Livingston, David Barry Gray, Larry Sullivan

“Game Change” seems like a bully wrote its screenplay. It looks at the failed bid for the presidency by John McCain in 2008. It pays respect to McCain himself and to his advisors, but highlights their crucial mistake in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. It attacks the weaknesses of that choice and Palin in particular. It finds the easy targets, the surface flaws, and never attempts to look too deeply into the mechanics of choosing Palin or into Palin’s own personal and professional successes. It’s like a kid that doesn’t like the other kid that was invited to the party, so he kicks sand in her face, points at her, and gets everyone else to laugh along.

I’m no fan of Palin, and perhaps she was as clueless as she seems in the movie, but Palin is not really what this movie is about or should be about. The movie opens and closes with the 60 Minutes interview with Steve Schmidt, the campaign manager who all but admitted in the interview that Palin was the biggest mistake of his career. That’s whose story this is, it’s Schmidt’s not Palin’s. The movie makes a point right in the beginning to have Schmidt declare a promise his wife that he would sit out the 2008 election cycle. The film never tells us why he said that and never addresses it again once it gets going. We never even meet his family.

There’s too much about Palin and not enough about Schmidt. And, what there is of Palin feels like talking points not in depth analysis. She’s presented as quite crazy. While she may not have been prepared to play the game on a national level, I have a hard time believing she was as out of touch with her responsibilities as she’s presented here. Maybe she was; but it’s the responsibility of the filmmakers is to figure out why, not just sling mud on her.

There is a scene near the end of the film when Schmidt sits down with his fellow advisors for a drink on the eve of the election. They look back on their mess of a campaign and have a few laughs. This is one of the few genuine moments of the film. I feel like we needed to see much more of this team’s interactions throughout the film. If Palin was only going to be used as the instrument of their frustration and the derailment of the campaign, then we needed to see them trying harder to make it work, doing their jobs and building their frustrations. Instead all we see of them are their reactions to her eccentricities, which were only the same as most people’s who saw her falter after her big entrance into national awareness. The rest just seems to be picking the scab off a slowly healing wound. What's worse, I don't buy it.

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