Director: Jay Roach
Starring: Will Farrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, Dan Aykroyd, Katherine LaNasa
Rating: 3.5 stars (of five)
When I was but a wee twenty year old lad attempting to take the easy road to a college diploma, I took a fairly unassuming course about comedy in film. From the course I pulled away two very important facts:
- If anything can kill comedy, it is analysis.
- Comedy succeeds from the dynamic built by characters operating with contrasting styles in opposition.
The Campaign succeeds largely due to the dynamic built by the fiercely contrasting styles of the film’s stars, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, and is rounded out by a wonderful supporting cast.
Ferrell makes a conscious decision to not just be George W. Bush lite. Ferrell’s incumbent candidate, Cam Brady, is more akin to John Edwards; a career politician ruled entirely by his Id. It is his inability think before he acts which lands him in hot water at the beginning of the film with a very Pat O’Brien-esque voicemail. Every action Ferrell makes is big and full of energy, whether he is outrunning a cop or punching a baby square in its still forming jaw. He literally and metaphorically throws comedic haymakers and during my screening, Ferrell had the most guffawing moments from the audience.
By comparison, Galifianakis’ turn as doughy, lisping underdog Marty Huggins is much more subdued. The character, right down to the look, is essentially just Seth Galifianakis, Zach’s “twin brother” character that he has been doing for years. Galifianakis plays Marty as an awkwardly self-aware man, and everything Zach does is in service of a laugh, even in the most subtle way. It can be seen in the effeminate way he tucks his leg under himself when he sits on a couch, fidgets under his father’s gaze or opens his eye at the most awkward possible moment of a kiss. I found myself often laughing the hardest at the smallest moments; little things that most in the audience didn’t pick up on.
Those two styles of Id and awkward self-awareness propel the film through a political satire that tackles contemporary issues of corporate corruption and the absurdity of our electoral process. John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd are well suited for the Motch Brothers; thinly veiled Koch Brother stand-ins who attempt to get Marty elected as their political puppet so that they can open a Chinese sweatshop in North Carolina.
Karen Maruyama is also well used as Huggins’ family maid, Mrs. Yao, who’s job requires her to speak in a manner that is, without ruining the joke, stereotypical in a rather unexpected way. Both candidate’s campaign managers are scene stealers. Jason Sudeikis is both believable and honestly funny as Ferrell’s Manager and Dylan McDermott plays an absurd and terrifying counterpart to Galifanakis.
The film only stumbles in regards to its ending and portrayal of its female characters. The ending is the type of feel good sticky sweet schlock that is typical Hollywood, but I suppose it could just be my own pessimistic view on politics that makes it hard for me to accept such a feel good ending. The female characters issue is a little harder to dismiss out of hand. Outside of Mrs. Yao, the only female characters who have any lines of dialogue are a nipple slip girl, Cam Brady’s wife (Katherine LaNasa) ,who is essentially playing the exact same character as Ricky Bobby’s wife from Talladega Nights, and Mitzi Huggins (Sarah Baker), who is only there to fulfill the same tired trope of wife who is unhappy because her husband isn’t around enough.
The film also fails the Bechdel Test (have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man) on two of the three criteria, which is unfortunate because it is other wise enjoyable.
Overall, The Campaign, is a hilarious and timely satire that is made great by two incredible comedians, but dragged down slightly by some piss poor female representation and a fairy tale ending.