Despite its title,”The Campaign” is not political.
Fresh from “Game Change” (2011), HBO’s incredible (and incredibly serious) Sarah Palin/John McCain film, director Jay Roach has given us an unlikely farce. Is this a little disappointing, considering his deft handling of seriously scathing material?
Nope. It’s just what we need.
The film follows the re-election campaign of Democratic congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), who’s running unopposed for his fifth term in North Carolina’s 14th district.
Brady’s election seems like a sure thing, until the conniving billionaire Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) arise from the depths of D.C. and decide to unseat him. These brothers have a plan, and they need someone firmly in their pockets — enter Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), their ideal choice for a Republican contender. The film takes flight from here, absurdity following absurdity, and we’re laughing the whole way.
Ferrell’s doing his slimiest John Edwards impersonation here, complete with $900 haircut and unabashed sexual dalliances. But Ferrell is best at extremes and doesn’t sweat the small stuff, thus making his character less believable and, I think, less successful than Galifianakis’.
If we’re being honest, Galifianakis is the reason you should see this movie.
The comedian’s eccentricities shine — Marty Huggins is a real person, and the kind of nuances Galifianakis brings to even the smallest things (specific words, his signature walk) are unmatched by Ferrell.
His gags are also much less obvious; a turn of phrase, a longing look at his beloved pet pugs — these things are all quietly hilarious while Ferrell is busy punching a baby and drunk-dialing.
Aside from the performances, the film finds its success in its bizarre political other-America — this is our country and these look like our elected officials and our 24-hour news channels, but they’re not. Almost, but not quite.
Instead, we get to laugh at the oft-inanity of our political system without getting too depressed for the future. The film ends on such a light note that the fantasy of getting along is so powerful it almost makes you want to hug your neighbor.
This is SNL’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and it works.Contact Eugenia Hannon.