Dick, the political satire starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, manages to hold up twenty years after its theatrical release in 1999.
The political comedy re-imagines the Watergate scandal through the lens of a pair of high school students. Not surprisingly, the film opens on the night of the break-in. On this night, Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) are writing a letter. The duo hope to win a date with singer Bobby Sherman. While going outside to mail their letter, they tape the latch of the door. It just so happens that they run into G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer) in the stairwell on the way back. Political comedies can make for fascinating twists on such historic moments in American history.
The film also puts a twist on the infamous 18.5 minutes that are missing from the Nixon tapes. It turns out that the missing minutes having nothing to do with the scandal. Arlene records a message of love to the president. When the president later discovers the recording, he erases it. Your next question might be about the identity of Deep Throat. The duo, of course! This was before we ever knew of then-FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt’s identity as the mysterious source. Again, the film places some added twists such as the identity of aides involved. This only happens after they discover some of Nixon’s awful language, including antisemitic comments. True to history, the duo meet Bob Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch) in a parking garage.
It is certainly true that the film is a bit far-fetched but this doesn’t stop us from having fun. Nobody could possibly imagine a pair of high school students serving as official dog walkers. Nor could we imagine these two just happening to be on the scene during important political moments. Secret youth advisers who help to bring about the end of American involvement in Vietnam? The fun part in this is that their teachers don’t believe them. The whole part about bringing their Hello Dollies (cookies) to the Nixon-Brezhnev Accord is outright hysterical. Okay, so it’s also just as unbelievable–okay, definitely unbelievable!
Both Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams have great chemistry in this film. It really is a surprise that they haven’t done more work together. Williams is mostly known for more dramatic work but once upon a time, she could really draw the laughs. (2024 edit: Both actors have combined for six Oscar nominations. But still, I’d love to see them reunite on screen in another comedy like this).
Dan Hedaya certainly gives us an uncanny Nixon impression even if it is for comedic effect. It’s so crazy how uncanny the portrayal is during the film! There have been a number of films with Nixon since this movie have been made. Despite this film being a comedy, Hedaya’s performance belongs with the best of them.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid with no shortage of SNL and Kids in the Hall alumni. Will Ferrell could have gone over the top as the prize-winning journalist but stays grounded. If anything, it’s McCulloch as Bernstein who goes for more comedy. But again, the whole premise is absolutely absurd despite revising moments in history but it still manages to work.
While Dick might not be a groundbreaking film, it succeeds because of its charm. Sure, it may be impossible to truly believe but that’s just the fun in watching the film. If we wanted to watch actual history, we could tune into All The President’s Men!
DIRECTOR: Andrew Fleming
SCREENWRITERS: Andrew Fleming & Sheryl Longin
CAST: Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Jim Breuer, Will Ferrell, Dave Foley, Teri Garr, Ana Gasteyer, Devon Gummersall, Dan Hedaya, Bruce McCulloch, Ted McGinley, Ryan Reynolds, Saul Rubinek, Harry Shearer, G.D. Spradlin
Columbia Pictures opened Dick on August 4, 1999. The film is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. Grade: 4/5
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