This review is a bit of a tricky one.
Do I take on “Game Change” from a political perspective? From a filmic perspective? Do I ignore my own views and judge the film solely on an impartial basis? Is that even possible, considering how volatile the 2008 election was (and still is, really- four years isn’t quite enough time to heal 2008’s leftover sore spots).
I don’t have an answer. Well, I kinda have an answer. I’m just going to go with my gut and be really blunt about everything.
Sound like a plan?
So right off the bat, a little something about myself- I tend to have more liberal views and I voted for Obama in 2008. So there’s that. But I immediately got the sense that “Game Change” wasn’t specifically aimed at my particular worldview, or any worldview, really. It all feels impartial to a pretty reasonable degree.
But this is a movie, and like any movie, it needs a narrative. And that narrative is: Palin was woefully unprepared to be thrust upon the national stage the way she was, and the blame for what came afterward lies on both her own unwillingness to grow as a political candidate and on those who championed her as McCain’s running mate without vetting her thoroughly enough. It’s definitely not a story that paints Sarah Palin in an especially positive light. But it is a story that’s been confirmed by the aides and advisors who were there, despite both McCain and Palin’s claims that the entire thing is a falsehood to perpetuate liberal ideas in the media.
Unless you were there, you’ll never know for sure. Steve Schmidt (McCain’s senior campaign strategist and the film’s hero, played by Woody Harrelson) and other aides say one thing. McCain and Palin say the opposite. Really, it’s up to us to decide what we think really happened. But I will say that for all the negativity aspects of the story, McCain and Palin and everyone else are portrayed with humanity and sympathy.
However, every movie needs a villain, and for “Game Change,” Palin is that villain. She’s no caricature- just like in any work of fiction, the classic villain is a mix of good and evil, someone who does commits an atrocious act with the firm belief that this atrocious act is for good. Sarah Palin is no different. She first takes up the mantle of vice president to serve her country, and to serve McCain, and to provide a voice for the working mothers and disabled people who lack a voice in society.
Although I do have to point out that the “serving McCain” thing is a little ham handed- it feels like there was supposed to be some kind of deep, mentor/protegee connection between McCain and Palin, but all we really get is one or two lines where she acts reverent of him and his words about the party’s future at the very end. It just isn’t enough.
And really, even with all of the hero worship McCain receives, there’s an odd inconsistency in how we’re supposed to view his character- you’ve got almost the entire cast sucking up to him, but at the same time he’s portrayed as this ineffectual, weak leader. He doesn’t know how to overcome his weak polling numbers. He puts his full trust in Palin even as the events of the film portray her as an unqualified and unstable human being. But then at the same time, some of McCain’s larger gaffes throughout the campaign are glossed over almost entirely, like his decision to suspend a presidential debate to deal with the financial situation in Washington. The film’s depiction of McCain just feels a little inconsistent (flip-floppy, if you will).
And there are a couple of other moments that are treated like gargantuan victories, but really are nothing of the sort. When Palin overcomes her own weaknesses to perform well in her debate with Joe Biden, there’s laughing and cheering and a general air of great success. Which would have been just fine… if there had been some kind of real victory in the debate. But what everyone’s celebrating is that Palin could memorize her lines and speak them in a persuasive way, which is something she could already do in the first place. All she’s doing is getting back to square one after her catatonic episodes, and the film treats this, tonally, like a big climactic victory. It’s a little off-putting.
Julianne Moore, by the way, is fantastic as the Alaskan hockey mom, but you probably already knew that. Most of the hype surrounding the film revolved around Moore’s performance, and the combination of her dialect (she mentioned on The Daily Show that Palin has an odd way of emphasizing the prepositions in her speech, something that’s noticeable in the film and makes Moore seem considerably more Palin-like) and her makeup and everything else is just startling. Same goes for Ed Harris, who captures McCain’s movements and mannerisms perfectly. Solely from an acting standpoint, the film is just terrific, and is worth the watch just for the performances alone.
The cinematography… maybe not so much. There are some nice touches here and there, and some decent blending together of real footage from the Vice Presidential debate and the Katie Couric interview, but other than that nothing really stands out on a visual level as being particularly noteworthy. Same with the music- aside from some cornball country songs that honestly do more harm than good, the music’s completely forgettable. I will say, however, that there a handful of humorous little touches inserted throughout the film (Schmidt speaking to the press while going to the bathroom, Palin’s inability to stop saying “O’Biden” and the Dick Cheney jokes at the end) that are clever enough to lighten things up just a little and make everyone seem a little more human.
So, overall, should you see “Game Change?”
Yeah, probably. Unless you’re a die-hard McCain/Palin fan and you shudder at the thought of them being portrayed in a negative (if still sympathetic and understanding) light. Other than that, though, it’s worth a view. It may not be the single greatest creative effort undergone in the history of mankind, and it may not offer up a ton of political insight you weren’t already aware of just from watching the news, but the performances are an absolute pleasure to watch and the story itself is a fun little Frankenstein’s monster-type tale.
So why don’tcha go ahead and take a look.