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.