ONE STAR – Degrading
Set within the arena of a political campaign, “Speechless” is a study of the games people play in love and war - or at least politics. The questions writer Robert King seems to be exploring are: Is everything really fair in love and war? Can you live happily ever after if you live life only as a game? Do the ends ever justify the means?
To explore these issues, director Ron Underwood engineers a relationship between two creative and sleepless speech writers of opposing senatorial campaigns. Meeting over the last box of sleeping pills in a pharmacy, Michael Keaton and Geena Davis share a common temperament, intelligence and attraction.
Beginning with mutual lies as to why each needs the pills more than the other, and continuing with equally deceptive answers concerning their true vocations, the relationship is as much a fabrication of their creativity as the speeches they write. But, as is true in life, the lies are soon uncovered and then the real relationship begins.
In the scene in which the relationship becomes real, Keaton and Davis are invited to speak to a junior high group. Not knowing the other was a speech writer for the opposition, they discover for the first time that they have been deceived as they sit before a class of teenagers.
The volcano of anger from the deceptive game they’ve both been playing erupts into humorous cinema, but as we laugh at their inappropriate anger, there is a sadness which overcomes us as well. Both lose the game.
Simultaneous to their relationship becoming real, the film then evaluates the political games of the candidates. Both candidates are portrayed as caricatures with empty heads and absent hearts. These shallow candidates need their speech writers to both fill their heads and give them heart. When both candidates are shown to be not only playing a game but acting without integrity while willing to do whatever it takes to be elected, both end up as losers.
The moral questions raised by King in writing “Speechless” are resolved within the film as Keaton and Davis find their own integrity and ideals. In a pivotal scene, Keaton and Davis are playing in a fountain. When Davis shares her ideals, Keaton responds: “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk like that. You should run.”
This heartfelt conviction reaffirms the true purpose of politics and places the campaigns in a new arena for Davis and Keaton. The subsequent speeches and their fabricated reality are now “speech-less,” with the characters’ growing commitment to truth and to each other. In its final scene, this causes Davis and Keaton to both reject their own candidates and go off together to run an “ideal” campaign of their own.
Although we admit that this film is entertaining in its attempt to present a case for integrity, truthfulness, honesty and love, we found the film to be shallow not only in its development of the characters, but in its exploration of these issues.
Honesty seemed to be the means of choice only when lies did not get them their desired ends. Keaton’s integrity was compromised by his manipulation of Davis’ fiance to insure they did not marry.
Love itself was caricatured for Keaton and Davis as they played a balcony scene with Keaton calling out to “Julia” and then vine-swinging into her arms like Tarzan. Even their love-making was not presented as a well developed commitment, but it was compared to animal-like communication.
Both love and politics provide an excellent arena for a full discussion of the kinds of games or integrity exhibited by the people involved. Unfortunately, “Speechless” focuses at a shallow level of relationship development and political motivation, leaving us with a somewhat cynical view of both.
What is needed in lovers and politicians today are people willing to be honest even when honesty is not popular or loved. We need people willing to live for their ideals, even when those ideals are not appreciated. And we long for relationships in which love is a full commitment of each to the other on the deepest spiritual levels and not remaining at just the physical attraction many call love.
“Speechless” does not explore the kind of dynamics such people would experience, therefore it does not provide us with the ingredients for a deeper discussion. Although entertaining, we were disappointed in the missed value “Speechless” could have given to our perspective of love and public service.