The Campaign marks its 10th anniversary since the election satire starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis opened in theaters in 2012.
“War has rules, mud wrestling has rules…Politics has no rules.” Ross Perot, Presidential Candidate 1988.
The main problem with the film’s opening quote is that Perot didn’t run for president in 1988. This is something that should have been fixed for the home video release. Instead, it is still there ten years later!
Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) is a four-term congressman representing North Carolina’s fictional 14th district. He’s a vulnerable candidate when it’s learned that he called the wrong household and left a sexually explicit message on the answering machine. All of a sudden, Brady goes from 62% to 47% in the polls. Glenn (John Lithgow) and Wade Motch (Dan Aykroyd) seize the day and invest heavily in a candidate of their choice. They decide on Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), Hammond, N.C.’s tourism director and the son of Raymond Huggins (Brian Cox). Campaign manager Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) gives Marty and his entire family a makeover. Before you know it, the Huggins family looks like the typical GOP family.
The mudslinging becomes vicious. Cam gets a major beating in the polls after punching both a baby and Uggie the dog. He’s a Democrat and brings great shame on the party with his actions but it’s still business as usual. Eventually, Cam decides to make a sexually explicit advertisement but this is where campaign manager Mitch Wilson (Jason Sudeikis draws the line). Could you blame him? It’s porn! Eventually, Marty comes to realize who the Motch brothers are and what they represent. He wants nothing to do with them bringing Chinese jobs to the United States. Marty still runs for office but he no longer has their support. Instead, they start supporting Cam Brady. Marty airs the most unusual advertisement on election day, which would almost certainly give him votes. To no surprise, Cam wins because the Motch brothers manufacture the voting machines.
The film doesn’t end as the screen fades out and the credits roll. There’s another scene featuring the Motch brothers testifying in front of Congressman Marty Huggins. Sitting next to Huggins is his chief of staff, Cam Brady.
Jay Roach is a solid director. Where Adam McKay has focused on the political side of things in recent years, Roach has also directed Recount, Game Change, and All the Way. He’s a solid director for the film because of the mixture of politics and comedy. Roach’s comedy credentials come by way of the Austin Powers trilogy and the first two Meet the Parents films. In another universe, I could easily see McKay directing this film, too.
The Campaign is one of those films that can only be released during an election year. Obviously, there are exaggerations but Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell’s script hit the main beats. The filmmakers really go after the influence of dark money on our elections. Look at the Motch brothers. In real life, it’s the Koch brothers and they destroyed America as we know it. This sort of money should not be in politics at all! When you look at some of the biggest House and Senate races, most of the money doesn’t even come from the district. No, most of it is coming from outside the state.
Here’s how exaggerated The Campaign is: neither Cam Brady or Marty Huggins would be able to finish their campaigns. The scandals almost certainly would force them to withdraw from the race. Both national and state parties would certainly stop backing them and withdraw their resources. In terms of the script, Henchy and Harwell go for the offensive and get away with it because they can. You also have some master improvisers who also improve upon the script. But hey, this is the movies and so they aren’t limited to what would happen in real life. We just have to suspend our disbelief and enjoy it.
Looking back on 2012, it doesn’t matter whether or not The Campaign has aged well. This is a film that offers so many laughs–some cringe-worthy–while not being subtle about the satire. But then again, you’d probably a have time finding a writers’ room where they have the FBI invading the home of the former president because he took national security documents. Or any of the shit that Trump did in the White House. Nobody expects this in reality because it’s not supposed to happen. But again, The Campaign is a satire that is pointing what’s wrong with American politics and in this regard, it hits it right on the money.
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
SCREENWRITERS: Chris Henchy & Shawn Harwell
CAST: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, with John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, and Brian Cox
Warner Bros. released The Campaign in theaters on August 10, 2012. Grade: 4/5
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