Director: Jay Roach
Writer: Danny Strong
Cinematography: Jim Denault
by Jon Cvack
Continued from Part 1....
I haven’t read Game Change, but I do know it examines all of the 2016 candidates, not providing any of the characters with immunity. Game Change the movie, though, focuses almost entirely on Sarah Palin, played by Julianne Moore, and her relationship to John McCain’s (Ed Harris) campaign manager Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) who, with Moore, provides a killer performance. Basically, with McCain unable to compete with Obama’s superstar status, they needed a “game changing” strategy. While McCain pushed for independent Joe Lieberman, his advisers felt that it wasn’t going to help him with the base who already thought he was far too liberal. They knew a woman could provide what they needed, but when one of the McCain advisers is YouTubing the leading Republican women, observing that none of them really had any competitive charisma, it was Sarah Palin, with her looks, charm, and conservatism, that seemed to fit the bill. The problem was they didn’t have enough time to vet her and discover the vast baggage she was carrying.
We quickly discover a woman who, while seeming to be modest and polite, was washed away by the fame and unable to keep up under the national microscope. Or so the documentary shows. We get to see the bombed interviews, her complete lack of elementary foreign policy knowledge, her inability to handle stress, culminating in a near meltdown before she finally gets her act together, delivers at the Vice Presidential Debate, and becomes the future - temporary leader - of the Republican Party.
My problem was that it all just felt a bit too one sided. We get to see her more redemptive qualities - the love for her down syndrome baby that she chose to have in her mid-40s and commitment to family, but these all felt so easy. Rather than examining what might have led to her overconfidence or borderline mental breakdown (as they refer to it), we simply get scenes of Moore staring off into the distance, overwhelmed for reasons unknown. It’s easy to assume that it was the rise to stardom that might have unhinged her. I was left wondering how she managed to become governor and sustain the position if she was in such a precarious state of mind. In an uninspired biopic version, we might have seen her rise to governorship, the way her relationships to Todd and her family evolved, or those within the community. Instead it was only the here and now, with not much concern for the why. I was left wanting more from the film, rather than essentially witnessing the next chapter where she’d descend even further toward instability.
It was interesting to watch as the campaign witnessed the oncoming train wreck. I admired John McCain’s alleged ability to look past the defeat, having wanted to run a respectable campaign that his grandkids would be proud of. But then I think about the ongoing feud between McCain and Obama, or even between McCain and Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, where the man went from a frequent guest, to the focus of Stewart’s satire. Clearly there was a resentment in having been so defeated, with McCain losing many of the qualities that elevated him during the 00s - becoming more hardlined, conservative, and recalcitrant. It felt like the filmmakers figured if they treat McCain with nobility, then they could get away with the relentless criticism of Palin. The film could have explored more of Obama’s rise, and his feud with Clinton, which would be especially poignant today as so many are able to ignore history and how heated it got between the two Democratic contenders. Sure, this might have demanded a much longer film, but I could have done less with Palin, as I didn’t discover much I didn’t already assume, and more toward the other candidates who I’m sure also experienced some difficult Game Changing decisions.
BELOW: Best scene of the film; eerily prescient of the future far right disruption
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