“The Campaign”… Election problems

Posted on September 1, 2012


Will Ferrell, with his demeanour of instant disreputability (he looks like an overgrown kid planning his next raid on the cookie jar), is perfectly cast as Congressman Cam Brady in Jay Roach’s The Campaign. One look at this politician and we know he’s up to no good. That’s what we think of most politicians anyway, and Ferrell sinks his teeth into the part with the vicious glee of a sharp political cartoonist with a truly filthy mind. He warms up with a few innocuous (and fairly clichéd) barbs. On the campaign trail – he’s running unopposed for his fifth term – he flings shameless platitudes at groups of farmers (“farmers are this nation’s backbone”), bankers, women, veterans, and Asian carnival workers (“Filipino Tilt-a-whirl operators are this nation’s backbone”). But things really get going when he’s caught leaving an obscene message on the answering machine at the home of a deeply religious family, just as they’re saying grace before dinner.

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Over time, Hollywood has been steadily pushing the edges of the R-rated envelope, though the official war against meek notions of public propriety was probably launched with the release of Bridesmaids last year. When a woman in a wedding dress, that most hallowed grail of girlhood, squatted in the middle of the street to let loose a runny bowel, something changed. And The Campaign takes it further, with hilarious, scatological-minded riffs, sometimes voiced by moonfaced kids, and sometimes targeted at nothing less than the Lord’s Prayer. Had this spoof/satire tone lasted from beginning to end, we’d have had a rollicking takedown of every single hypocrisy we associate with American governance. But a little after Marty Huggins (an archly amusing Zach Galifianakis) stands up to challenge Brady, the fun begins to leak out of the film, and a lot of dead time begins to creep in. By the end, with a replay of the David-Goliath scenario set to swelling inspirational music, the confounded audience feels like it’s watching a belligerent rapper transform into a boy scout.

An edited version of this piece can be found here.

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Posted in: Cinema: English