The Campaign

By Cory Haggart

Mailed on August 13, 2012

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Dear Steven Clawson
Photo Double/Stand-in for Dan Aykroyd

Dear Steven,

Are you a real double, or do you stand in for one? In The Campaign it seems doubly weird that you'd pose as Dan, because he's already playing a character that's a parody of someone in real life. So you work as a person playing a person imitating a person that echoes a character. Is it even possible to have so many layers and not compromise them all? This comedy-cum-parody-slash-satire-plus-jingoistic heartwarmer provides the answer: "No." But the movie takes some big risks, and I found myself rooting for it many times, even if I wasn't laughing along as often as I'd like.

The entire plot is one of stand-ins and poseurs. Your Dan Akroyd plays Wade Motch, one of the uber-Kapitalistisch billionaire brothers who start the movie pulling the political strings for Cam Brady (Will Farell), a multiple-term, lazy, corrupt senator from North Carolina. When Cam takes things too far, the Motch brothers turn to their list of potential new candidates. They select Zack Galifianakis' Marty Huggins, an effeminate local tour guide who happens to be the son of a local political figure - a replacement for his other son­. Proving that anyone can stand in for congressional candidate, the Motch brothers send in campaign manager Dylan McDermott, whose alpha-male aggression easily transforms Marty into a successful (and wretched) American political candidate.

Confused? You should be. Luckily, in The Campaign, the details don't matter much. The film sticks to enough familiar tropes that you always know who to root for at any given moment. It's still a neat trick, where the recurring theme is how the political machine transforms and grinds down each player in turn. Each character reveals a split identity, both betraying and being betrayed by the people he or she believes in. As characters strive heroically for their dreams and ideals, they face the true terrible costs of their behaviour.

Does that make it sound a like The Campaign has the moral gravitas of a Nolan Batman movie? Steven, you know better. Being on set must have been hilarious. Everyone seems to be having fun, and the movie's surprises and bigger laughs feel like off-script ad-libs­. The speeches and campaign ads stand out with bits that I am sure never made it into any script, for any movie, ever.

In a big summer movie--the kind that is usually focused-grouped within an inch of its life--it feels risky to leave so much to chance. But that really wasn't the big risk of all. Your character (or the character for whose actor you stand in) has a real life version. That would be either David or Charles Koch, two gentlemen brothers actively engaged in shaping American politics from atop giant piles of money and the largest privately held corporation in the U.S. Those two are easily worth more than the entire Warner Brothers movie studio that produced this little movie. This makes the _The Campaign _very existence surprising ­-- it spits in the eye of two American gods. I have to give it some credit for bravery.

But despite the comedy and the bravery, this movie ends up having a bit of an identity crisis. Is it biting political commentary? It's doesn't chomp down nearly hard enough. Is it light slapstick, baby-punching silliness? The heavier themes weigh it down too much for that. Is it a soothing salve to the American consciousness that despite current troubles, everything's going to be ok? It is way too barbed and observant to leave anyone feeling too comfortable with the world as it stands. It's hard to see a possible fix that doesn't require throwing the whole thing out and starting again. Risking Batman again, maybe it's the comedy we deserve, but not the one we need.

Duplicitously yours,


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