The Campaign

In a post earlier this year, I deplored the dearth of good movie comedies in recent years. It seems I spoke too soon, for I’ve seen four good comedies this year: Damsels in Distress, Moonrise Kingdom, Bernie, and now The Campaign. Although broad in its humor, this film is nevertheless a shrewd satire of the corruption and moral hypocrisy that pervade our political system.

Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a priapic Democratic congressman from North Carolina, is running unopposed for re-election, until he comes into the cross-hairs of the billionaire Motch brothers (Dan Ackroyd and John Lithgow), whose factories in China employ child labor. They want to open up similar factories in Brady’s congressional district. To this end, they persuade Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), the well-intentioned, but not terribly bright, scion of a wealthy family, to run against Brady as a Republican. When Brady humiliates Huggins in their first debate, the Motches decide to bring in Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott), an unprincipled political operator, to run Huggins’s campaign. Under Wattley’s tutelage, Huggins becomes an increasingly ruthless campaigner. Soon he and Brady are in a tight race.

The Campaign accurately parodies the shallow rhetoric of election campaigns in this country, including pandering to religious prejudice, spouting about “family values”, and making cheap appeals to patriotism. This movie’s cynicism, however, goes overboard sometimes. When, for example, Brady releases a video of himself having sex with Huggins’s wife, Mitzi (Sarah Baker), it causes Brady to pull ahead of Huggins in the polls. Would this happen in real life? Obviously not.

This film has a happy ending that seems tacked on and unconvincing. It seems that that the screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, and the director, Jay Roach, wanted to reassure us that “the system works”, despite having just demonstrated that the system does not work. Still, this movie will provide a welcome relief to those who are weary of this interminable and depressing presidential election.

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