Friday, August 8, 2008

Swing Vote

Perhaps I'm jaded or maybe I'm just realistic, but I've always taken politics to be a cesspool of back rubbing and more than a little stabbing, a place where the meek and the honest could never hope to win by following the straight and narrow. It is a place that by all accounts is about neither the truth nor the issues nor the intentions but about the image, about a popularity contest where not the best or brightest but the most manipulative thrive, where winning isn't about being right or just but about making your opponent look worse, forcing voters into a choice of not the best candidate but the one who will leave the country just a tad cleaner than his (or someday her) opponent. It is a place and a state of mind where the most qualified and well meaning almost never stand a chance, and I say almost never only because the enduring and unfortunately unkillable flicker of hope deep within me remains. That candle clinging to life does however occasionally get rewarded for its stubborn refusal to be snuffed out, especially when Hollywood breaks out its especially intense humorous lampooning tools for movies like Swing Vote.

Kevin Costner smellily shines as beer drooling Bud, a perpetual half assing bumb dragged out of bed and his drunken revelry by the inescapable charm of Madeline Carroll's Molly, who by all rights should be dull witted and buck toothed as the daughter of the beer chugging Bud and a perpetually baked mother (Mare Winningham). Never once however does the audience question this shining beacon that the future might in a handful of possible paths get a little brighter. At 12, Madeline Carroll manages to steal the show with a lot more than cute pigtails, carrying the weight of a movie and a nation on her shoulders with sharp whit and doey-eyed hopefulness easily shattered by the cruel world of paparazzi and moraleless campaign managers, yet perpetually stitching itself back together with a handful of sober moments by Bud, but really Molly is the pillar on which the film stands. Carroll manages to outshine warring but spineless candidates played by Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper as the Republican President and his democratic opponent. Even Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as the separate campaign managers seem a little intimidated by the preteen that could.

For two hours, the audience is told to forget all thought of being a rational actor and believe that a Presidential election could boil down to a single man and his vote. Should you be willing to make that leap of faith you will find yourself in a movie that heaps on the charm and the irreverent lambasting as the two most powerful men in the country wage a mudslinging war for the heart, soul and vote of a single drunken deadbeat hick. We get a laughing glimpse of the darkest politics has to offer, the lows to which anyone who gets so far as to be one of the two final candidates for the office of President of the United States of America would have to sink. There are no limits and there is no shame, a sad yet charming reminder of a gray tinged and perpetually imperfect world in which we live.

The problem with Swing Vote is that it ends. For two hours we believe that an American and his or her vote really matters, that in the darkest hour even politicians can be human beings who at least lean towards the side of what is right and good. Then abruptly, the credits role, we rise and ever so slowly make our way outside where the summer breeze, lukewarm and moist, laps at our foreheads and we remember why Poly is Greek for many and Ticks are blood sucking insects.
In Kevin Costner's drunken swagger and Madeline Carroll's impossible cuteness I find a reason, however brief, to believe that politics and American culture can in fact mean something more than winning at any cost in order to achieve instant gratification. The film is warm and funny, the tale of a father and his daughter than can be impossible yet heartwarming, set against the back drop of all that is ugly and regrettable about the American political system. Original, comical and enjoyable, Swing Vote shows that there still is some hope for Hollywood. Mr. Smith may have gone to Washington a long time ago, but his memory endures. Hollywood is in fact capable of recognizing that which must be resisted and give us a fun and endearing means by which to lambaste and destroy it. For now at least, Hollywood has my vote.

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