The Campaign

The Campaign (2012), directed by Jay Roach

Do you remember the days when satire had bite?

When it made you rethink the whole system and how things are run? I’m thinking Dr. Strangelove. Or The Candidate.

Well, people are calling The Campaign a “political satire” and while I suppose it is, things sure have changed. And that makes me concerned.

No longer does a film like The Campaign ask us to rethink how the system works. Instead it harps on the disillusionment and distrust that we already all know and feel down to our core and asks us to laugh at it without really thinking about it. It’s sad that instead of exposing holes in the system, it instead has to rely on making fun of how corrupt the system is to get laughs.

In its own crude way the film condemns lobbying, corporate financed campaigns, media coverage, citizen’s lack of political intelligence, smear campaigns and back-room deals. All worthy things to condemn.

(All of this sprinkled with a little sexism for good measure, but hey, par for the course right?)

But it does so in such a flippant and obvious way that it never asks you to really think about it. We all just assume everything is corrupt to its core and go from there.

Beyond that the form of the film, the way the story arch is carried out and the way the film is shot, is so run of the mill that the director never once seems to actually be asking you to think about politics. Just laugh when the baby gets punched and let’s move on.

As a pure comedy The Campaign is marginally successful. Some parts are genuinely hysterical. I must admit that the baby punching scene is a highlight.

But I must also admit that even then I have trouble remembering most of what was funny about the film. It’s not one that will be quoted by my friends for years to come.

The problem is it exists in the middle. On one hand it wants to be a typical ridiculous Ferrell vehicle, but on the other it has aspirations for something more. But there it sits, turning out as neither as it tries to be both.

Alternatively, The Campaign brought to mind in some ways Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Only with, you know, a nip slip scene. The film does go for that little man against the system type story, where in the end honesty and integrity are the virtues that rise above the corruption and disillusionment.

Unlike a film like Mr. Smith, however, we get no sense from The Campaign that the filmmakers believe this. Obviously the two films are very different, one is an outrageous comedy and other a heart-on-sleeve David and Goliath story, but even so there’s no real heart to The Campaign, nothing to make you actually care about anything that’s happening.

It very much has a paint by numbers feeling that holds it back from having either the bite or the heart that could have made it something more.

The Campaign is in theatres now.

Casa de mi Padre

Casa de mi Padre (2012), directed by Matt Piedmont

Finally the Mexican epic that we have heard so much about is now available on home video. Shot over the course of weeks, with a cast of at least a dozen, Casa de mi Padre is a triumph of Mexican cinema that heralds the arrival of its new international star, Will Ferrell.

Alright, alright, I won’t go overboard with the joke because we all know it and I stole it straight up from the movie’s marketing. Casa de mi Padre isn’t a great Mexican film. It was shot on a sound stage in Hollywood that isn’t even disguised to be anything other than obviously a sound stage. It stars Ferrell as Armando Alvarez, a noble son of a ranch owner who loves the land and his family’s honour.

The film is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Mexican telenovelas, which, as I understand it, are basically Mexican soap operas. This is a comedy, first and foremost. I mean, obviously. Will Ferrell is in it and he speaks Spanish. Will Ferrell doesn’t speak Spanish. Hilarious.

I have to say that even though this is a mess of a movie that I’m sure will leave most people scratching their heads and is probably a heck of a lot funnier to those more familiar with Mexican culture, I still enjoyed it.

It’s silly and thrown together and completely inconsequential, but I still had a lot of fun watching it. It partly goes for this Tarantino-like celebration of a Mexican grindhouse style of cinema, and while it fails to hit that mark, I enjoyed watching it fail and know that the filmmakers went into it without taking the whole thing all that seriously. Maybe it’s sad that I find that refreshing, but sometimes you just need a silly movie, you know?

The music is excellent, the mix of the best of the best of Mexican actors (Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal) with the clearly not-Mexican Ferrell is a punch line worth seeing and the whole thing comes off as an enjoyable lark. I liked the phony sets and the painted backdrops, the shoddy cuts and soft focus. All that plus one of the strangest and most hilarious sex scenes I’ve seen in a while. Hard to lose, really.

I really don’t want to get into some in-depth diatribe with a film as unapologetically silly as this. This is a minor Ferrell film, a throw away, a giggle, really nothing more. But it knows it, that’s what it goes for, and I enjoyed it as just that.

Casa de mi Padre is available on home video now.