Pugs, Not Huggs.
I’d love more than anything else to put The Campaign with Knocked Up, The Forty Year-Old Virgin, and other absurd comedies that seek to entertain more than tell a meaningful story. They have heightened perceptions of reality and feature unrealistic situations just for the hell of it – and in many ways this is what The Campaign relies on to get through it’s story. However, because it’s about American politics, it necessarily causes people to think and make comparisons to how elections play out in real life. This leads to the realization that a lot of the things that make The Campaign funny and interesting, have ties to events that have happened in real life that have made politics funny and interesting. And what hasn’t happened yet – they don’t fall outside of lows that elections can and have sunk to.
What The Campaign does really well is that it develops a sort of morality play that focuses on two candidates that, like real life, aren’t perfect beings. This is no Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, where idealism and the good ol’ American way get people far. The incumbent, Cam Brady (Will Farrell), is just as much of a shady scumbag as Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) is odd and creepy. Cam floats unopposed in his congressional seat, while his affairs and dirty phone calls are made public. After a while, this has an effect on popularity polls. Sensing an opportunity to take his (presumably Democratic) seat and introduce someone they know they can control, the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and Jon Lithgow) convince Marty, a man who barely functions as an adult, to run on the Republican ticket. Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of the roles Galifianakis takes as an actor, but his portrayal of Marty kept me consistently laughing, which is something not many comedies can do.
The Motch brothers’ motivations for doing this are, quite frankly, the most ludicrous part of the film. I won’t reveal them here, because it’ll ruin the comedy, but I wills say that it makes the Motch brothers come across as cartoon villains instead of corrupt businessmen. They’re just evil for evil’s sake. Perhaps this is meant to be a commentary on how big business types have the tendency to think they’re above the law, but it’s too paper-thin to take seriously.
However, in introducing Marty to the ballot, they inadvertently kickstart Cam’s reelection campaign, and create one of the most intense non-lethal competitions between two characters in recent cinema. As the weeks wind down, it becomes a race to see who can sling the most mud, generate the most publicity, and at the same time seem presentable to the people they’re trying to represent. Babies are punched, people are shot, and wives are seduced over this time span. Outright libel and outrageous claims are published. One of the funniest moments comes when Marty challenges Cam to recite the Lord’s Prayer to prove that he’s a Christian, which he spectacularly fails at doing. It may be a scene that’s uncomfortable for some, but it speaks volumes about how people in America like to choose their candidates. It may be the only movie I’ve ever seen where dumb comedy is there to make a point.
Fresh From American Horror Story, Dylan McDermont plays Marty’s campaign manager
Another major (but highly underused) character is Marty’s corrupt campaign manager (McDermont) who takes over his life and “fixes” everything from his furniture, to the dogs he’s seen with in public. He writes the speeches, and encourages Marty to be just as dirty as Cam can be, which is simply impossible for him. Most of the other minor characters are given about just as much characterization, with the sole exception of the Motch brothers’ Asian housemaid, who is forced to talk in a stereotypical southern African-American maid accent as a part of her job. Despite having little screentime, she has some of the best moments in the movie because she defies stereotypes equally as much as she is forced to embrace them.
Another thing I found incredibly disappointing was the ending. It suddenly makes us believe that one of the two is better and that between them, the’s a Good and an Evil, when they’re both Anti-Heroes. That mirrors the idea that since one of them has to win the election, one of them has to eventually be better, but it ruins the whole tone of the movie. However much the whole movie makes several good points about American politics and is much smarter than it may seem, it’s also has a sappy ending that gives Mallrats a run for its money. I came away from this movie liking it better than I thought I would, but I do recognize that it only works because politics allows for no rules and all fun. It’s a good commentary on modern culture, and worth seeing despite what the score I give it is supposed to imply. It deconstructs Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and that’s something you don’t see enough of.
3 out of 5 stars