Film Review – The Campaign
To say there is plenty of fodder for comedy in politics is to state the obvious; The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have been hilariously proving that point four times a week for years. From corrupt politicians to Twitter sex shockers, aggressive lobbyists, overactive interns, overspending departments, prostitution rings, gay scandals, bribery, and general hypocrisy, our government has been giving the comedy writers of the world more than enough material to satirize them into eternity.
Imagine the following scenario: a long-term incumbent congressman continually runs unopposed even though he is a womanizing, hard-drinking lout. The opposing party wants to get their own candidate in place, so they recruit a total oddball who will do what he’s told when they want to sell his district to China. Both candidates run a nasty campaign, and everyone starts wondering if anyone will win if one of these idiots makes it into office. I think there’s enough here to make a pretty funny high- or low-brow comedy. But then let’s replace all the nuanced parts with the crudest jokes we can think of. Hell, let’s replace everything that is even remotely funny with a dick joke or its equivalent. Because you know what’s funny? Punching babies and kids talking about bestiality. If you think nonstop crudity is funny, then you are going to love The Campaign, directed by Jay Roach. There were plenty of people in the screening I was at who were laughing their asses off and having a great time, so if the thought of ever-escalating crude jokes appeals to you, then this is your movie. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else here, and I was ready to go home after about ten minutes. But I stayed, and lived to tell the tale.
The Campaign is the story of two men: Congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) and candidate Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis). Democratic Congressman Brady is a multi-term representative because he is excellent at running for office, if perhaps not so good at actually being in office (or being a husband or father). Also, he is continually unopposed. Two rich businessmen, the Motch bothers, want to control his district, so they run a candidate of their own, Marty Huggins, who is the son of one of their cronies. They believe that they can keep him under their thumb because they view him as a loser. (He is an effeminate straight man.) They hire Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) to remake Marty in their image, and to control his behavior during the campaign. The campaign itself is a continual onslaught of ever-escalating low blows. At what point will the madness end? Will it ever end?
Just to put this out there, I have nothing against crudity. I swear like a sailor and appreciate nasty humor in many of its forms. However, this film is relentless. I don’t mind when a director gets down and dirty—shocking can be very funny. But when it is the only thing in a director’s arsenal, it can get pretty tired pretty quick. There is almost nothing else here, and everything is taken to an extreme. Congressman Brady doesn’t just have sex with a woman he meets at a rally, he does it in a Porta-Potty. Everything just goes as low as it can get. There were only two laughs for me based on humor instead of just being a WTF moment. (I find pleated jeans to be hilarious, and there is a brief but funny joke involving the mention of Ripley’s Believe It or Not.)
As far as the acting goes, there is nothing special here. Ferrell is in his generic clueless asshole mode and Galifianakis just does a sexually ambiguous straight man bit. I feel like everyone in Hollywood got together and decided that since we can’t make fun of gay people anymore, it’s time to start targeting effeminate straight men. Because it’s just like making fun of effeminate gay men. And they might really be gay and not know it. And that would be hilarious. Whatever. And don’t even get me started on the race politics in this film, or the roles for the women. (Does not even come close to passing the Bechdel test, FYI.)
Look, I am not the Political Correctness police. Generally speaking, I often think people need to lighten up. But this movie made me want to take everyone to task, and that is not a role I want to play; I am not this movie’s mother and should not have to yell at it for being so annoying. Everyone in this movie is unappealing; there is not a single likeable person in the bunch. Even my beloved Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow flail as the Mock Brothers. Their performances are totally a nod to the Duke Brothers in Trading Places, but without actually being funny. In fact, if you want to watch a comedy with crude jokes about despicable people, watch Trading Places instead. That movie makes me laugh until I hurt; this movie just made me want to go home.
Final Grade: D