' ' Cinema Romantico: Swing Vote

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Swing Vote

When I was younger, much younger, I was enraptured by politics. I remember voraciously reading biographies of Washington and Jefferson and Madison. I remember getting into verbal arguments with Mr. Calvert, my history teacher in high school, who would always open class with discussions of current events and I happened to take his class at the same time Clinton was attempting to oust the First Bush. Mr. Calvert was a conservative. I was a liberal. Granted, I was a liberal mostly because I grew up in an exclusively liberal leaning household and only knew the basic generalities of what I was talking about but the point remains......I had a passion for politics. That, however, has long since changed.

We're all friends here, right? I can admit something to you, can't I? I can? Good. Here it is. I didn't vote in the infamous 2000 election. I suppose I would have voted for Gore if I had, but I found the whole process, the whole campaign, the whole election, the divisiveness of it and of the nation, so nauseating and depressing that I simply couldn't take it. I lost all interest. I genuinely did not care. F--- it. I got wise eventually and I returned to the voting booth and contrary to the "Wag the Dog" post last Tuesday, yes, I voted. Even so, I did not retain much of an appetite for politics.

"Swing Vote" is a decidedly, necessarily absurd story about a New Mexican yokel Bud - played by Kevin Costner in such a way to suggest the way Gardner Barnes might very well have gone - whose 12 year old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll), dismayed at her father's routine drunkenness and failure to vote in the day's Presidential election, attempts to cast her father's vote for him only to have it go electronically awry. As it happens and as it must, the election is a dead heat. It all comes down to New Mexico's electoral votes. And New Mexico's electoral votes hinge entirely on that single vote that went awry. In other words, Bud will decide the nation's President.

As you might expect, the press and, in turn, chaos descend on Bud's and Molly's trailer and both candidates, incumbent Boone (Kelsey Grammar) and challenger Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), turn up to court his vote. Their respective campaign managers, played by Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, have, respectively, never lost and never won, thus they will do whatever it takes to make their boss's do whatever it takes to earn that vote. So we find Boone, the conservative, winning the hearts of the EPA and Greenleaf, the liberal, threatening to clamp down on the Mexican border.

The humor is generally broad but can, at times, induce pleasant chuckles. The Presidents are revealed to be generally good guys but puppets controlled by their managers. Bud is at first amused by the process then takes the slope downward to a pit of nicey-nice depression at the tail end of the second act when America and the town turn on him so he can rise back up to recite the obligatory speech to the Presidents as the music swells.

It's all handled well enough, maybe even a little better than you think, and Costner (and Costner's amused giggle) are surprisingly solid. But I really saw "Swing Vote" through the eyes of young Molly.

She opens the film full of ideals. She embraces the right to vote, so much more because she still does not have this right herself, and she is sad that her father does not only refuse to embrace it in the same way but that he does not embrace it at all. And as the film's story grows larger and larger, as she meets the President and TV reporters and others, as she sees the Political Machine for what it really is, a place where ideals go to die and victory overrides principals, her passion for the process threatens to wane.

Her father, I think, senses this too and goes to bat. Costner, smartly, never plays the part all that differently, he just slightly adjusts his attitude. Sometimes that's all it takes. And his daughter's ideals in the end are able to remain intact. Hopefully they stay that way.


Derek Armstrong said...

I really liked this film, perhaps more so because I was really expecting not to like it. I think it helps that Madeleine Carroll is one of my favorite child actors to come along in years, but Costner also plays this right (as you said). It's genuinely funny, too, especially the campaign ads.

One thing I thought was funny is that both Kelsey Grammer and (by this time in his life) Dennis Hopper are/were strong conservatives, which is a rarity in Hollywood. Yet neither of them seemed to exert any pressure on this movie to be overtly conservative, and in fact, I don't think it IS overtly conservative any more than it is overtly liberal. Anyway, I felt some momentary hope for their souls (Hopper's now departed) that they had not become so conservative that they refused to act in a centrist or even possibly left-leaning movie.

Nick Prigge said...

An excellent point. This easily could have become a platform for one political party or the other. Costner's a pretty staunch democrat, if I'm not mistaken, but he kind of skirted that middle ground too.