' ' Cinema Romantico: My Great Movies: Dick

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Great Movies: Dick

In the year 1999 I crusaded to convince anyone I knew to see "Dick", a film that on the surface seemed nothing beyond a teeny-bopper spoof of the Watergate scandal. I ranted and raved about its immense brilliance. I argued incessantly that Kirsten Dunst's rich, wise-beyond-her-years performance deserved that year's Best Actress Oscar (a contention I will forever keep). Most of the people who heeded my advice either disliked it or found it only mildly diverting. "Kirsten Dunst was okay," said one of my friends. "Anyone with an encyclopedia could've made that movie," said another. (I did find some solace in the the wake of Deep Throat's identity being revealed a few years ago when slate.com agreed that "Dick" was the Watergate movie that got it right.)And then the vein in my forehead would bulge. "Idiots," I'd mutter under my breath. But in this Presidential year I feel it's high-time we get to the bottom of what director Andrew Fleming's Watergate movie really is.

Two ditzy teenage girls, Betsy (Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams), are about to miss the midnight deadline for the "Win A Date With Bobby Sherman" contest and Arlene desperately wants to earn the top prize. To ensure they can get out of Arlene's Watergate apartment (wink) and to a mailbox and back into the apartment without trouble they put tape over the lock to the door (wink, wink). A break-in is reported and you know where that goes from there.

Besty and Arlene, meanwhile, head off the next day to the White House on a school field trip where our heroines happen upon the same man they happened upon at Arlene's apartment once returning from mailing her letter to Bobby Sherman. That man? G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer). This second encounter also affords them the opportunity to stumble upon the infamous CREEP list, which they initially mistake to be "tee-pee" stuck to Liddy's shoe. ("This isn't tee-pee. This is just a list of names with amounts of money next to them".)

In order to keep the girls quiet President Nixon (Dan Hedaya) makes them the Official White House Dog Walkers. It doesn't take long for the girls to, of course, blunder into a room where documents are being shredded. ("Paper mache is a hobby of mine," explains Nixon.) But the girls earn a reprive since they constantly deliver cookies unwittingly laced with Betsy's brother's marijuana that the President and his staff must have on a daily basis. (Never thought you'd see a stoned Lenard Brezhnev belting out "Hello, Dolly"? Think again.)

But things go wrong when Betsy and Arlene discover a tape recorder in the Oval Office and Arlene - who has developed a typical schoolgirl crush on the commander & chief - records her confession of love to the President. Betsy returns from walking the dog on her own to find Arlene still rambling on the tape ("You've been talking for eighteen and a half minutes") and they wind up playing back some of the tape to realize their beloved President (gasp!) has a foul mouth and treats his dog rather rudely.

Upon learning this the girls cut the chord on their friendship with Nixon and make a prank call to the Washington Post to talk to the "muck-raking bastards" Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (Will Ferrell - yes, Will Ferrell - and Bruce McCullough) to whom they claim they can provide inside info about Watergate. To hide their identities Betsy and Arlene offer the codename Deep Throat, in honor of the porn film Betsy's brother has just been grounded for seeing.

And so on and so forth. The movie gets far loonier as it progresses. It's undeniably a great lampoon of "All the President's Men". Woodward and Bernstein are not portrayed as fearless, intelligent heroes but as selfish dimwits who seem more concerned with their image than with anything else. (In a meeting with their editor, Bernstein makes some inane comment and Woodward admonishes him, "Don't do this to me.") So then what precisely does this film offer up beyond the surface? Well, I'll tell you.

"Dick" says more about current American politics than any movie ever made.

Not about politicians, mind you, or about politics themselves but about how we as Americans - for the most part - approach this political rigmarole. There are issues aplenty in the upcoming election but deep down the majority of voters simply want a President that seems likable. They want someone who seems relatable. They want someone with whom it seems they could have a beer. Really, people, why the hell do you think George W. was a two-termer? If I had a quarter for every time someone told me in 2004 they felt as if they could have a beer with George W. but not with John Kerry I'd be able to do my laundry for the next couple years. (The same goes for 2000 with George W. and Al Gore.) Whether or not the President is in actuality likeable or relatable or the sort of person with whom you want to have a cold adult beverage isn't really the point. As long as the President seems to possess those traits, we're fine - for awhile, anyway.

In the volatile world of politics most us aren't any more well-informed than two teenage girls who have less going on upstairs than - in the words of the film's Bob Haldeman - "yams". I know that's not true of everyone, of course. There are people out there who must be completely up to speed with Obama's views on the economy and Hillary's theories regarding our dependence on foreign oil and McCain's thoughts on immigration reform and Romney's opinions toward universal health care and so on and so forth. But most people when it gets down to it want someone who seems genuine. I remember a couple of people I'd just met upon my moving to Phoenix (which was right after the 2000 election) who said they trusted Bush more than Gore simply because he seemed most likely to follow his gut instinct as opposed to looking which way the wind was currently blowing. And why are people at present so hideously upset with George W.? They feel he lied to them.

Betsy and Arlene don't get ticked off at Nixon because of break-ins or illegal wiretaps or slush funds or even because he ordered troops into Cambodia. They get ticked off at him because he's prejudiced, has a "potty mouth" and kicks his dog. He lies to them. Initially it seems to them that Nixon is a nice person and they come to find out he is not. It all comes back to the most basic, the most primal of traits. The movie argues that this is what initiates the downfall of Nixon.

And it's what essentially initiated the downfall of our current President. He seemed genuine but in the end people decided that he was not. John Kerry, on the other hand, couldn't overtake him because he never seemed genuine to most people from the get-go. Then, of course, you've got Hillary, whose campaign here in '08 finally took an upswing when she shed a few tears. Ah, but then she up and shed a few more yesterday. Did she take it one step too far?

When it comes to politicians America really is nothing more than a vast land of ditzy schoolgirls. We might crush on one candidate for awhile but if that candidate does just one thing to make us feel jilted, well, in the words of Arlene, "we're not friends with him anymore!"


Wretched Genius said...

Movies I have Walked Out Of For Being So Bad (A Complete List):

Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Sorority Boys
Brokedown Palace

Yes, it was THAT bad.

Anonymous said...

I believe you're confusing "Dick" with Oliver Stone's "Nixon".

Anonymous said...

Um, Nick, I remember being in a theater of 25 people and being one of three people laughing. This movie is not the flavor of the masses.

Anonymous said...

"....I'm not gonna' dumb it down for some bonehead mass audience!!!"

Anonymous said...