2 Stars – Shallow
During election seasons when we are besieged with advertising and slogans of every kind, the first casualty of campaign wars is the “truth.” Every failure of an opponent is blown out of proportion and every good quality is made to look like a weakness.
Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever been through a campaign knows, a candidate is rarely in control of their own image or perceived character. Most of the time a candidate is a mere caricature of themselves controlled by outside campaign forces that have something to gain or to lose in your election. Such is the case in the comedy “The Campaign” where two unlikely candidates are manipulated for the gain of others. Truth, dignity, character, and the public’s interests are trampled in the process.
If one is cynical about politics, then this film is red meat to a hungry lion. Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a two-term Congressman from a small district in North Carolina who loves to shout out “Jesus” and “I love America” but has no real idea what that means. Since he has run unopposed for years, Brady throws around slogans that the polls show resonates with the public, but meanwhile he lives a vapid life in which he uses his elected office to fill his emptiness with perks from wealthy supporters or sex from beaming blondes.
Filling out the cynic’s corner are the two wealthy Motch brothers, Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade (Dan Aykroyd), who will back anyone who will get them the Congressional approvals they need to build Chinese-backed sweat shops in North Carolina. The Motch brothers are thinly-disguised caricatures of the Koch Brothers from Texas who are funders of one of the biggest Republican Super-PAC’s in this fall’s presidential election.
When the Motch brothers can’t control the super-childish Cam Brady, they decide to find someone to run against him who can be manipulated more easily. Their choice is Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the offspring of a wealthy business partner who is willing to sacrifice his own son in order to make more money. Marty may be naïve and innocent, but he has a good heart and loves his family. Little does he know that he is the perfect pawn in a large chess match.
We won’t spoil the crazy and insipid plot that follows, but to say the least, the humor is interspersed with crude sex and vulgar language. In the end, the Motch brothers do not get what they hoped for and the truth does come out. Unfortunately, you have to sit through a lot of adolescent jokes to get there.
The depressing conclusion that we can draw from this film is that although we may laugh at the cynical nature of elections embodied in the story, our society increasingly believes that this is the true nature of what occurs in politics. In the absence of good people running to serve the public good, we are left with greedy people willing to use public office for their own ego-filled pleasure. Even when good people run, outside money from all directions floods the media with half-truths. Every campaign finance reform measure in America seems to get shot down as a violation of free speech.
“The Campaign” may be a momentary laugh, but the sobering erosion of respect for public office that it represents is a wake-up call to everyone else to take these commitments seriously.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. Knowing that truth is not a requirement of political ads, do you find yourself nevertheless influenced by them? How do you discover the truth about the candidates?
2. The fact that many people are not willing to run for office because of the political smear campaigns, what do you think needs to happen?
3. Why do you think our nation allows large donors to influence elections?