Critics are falling into two sides of the debate. They're either praising or bemoaning the fact that Kevin Costner's new film, Swing Vote, is a calculated election year comedy that wears its "every vote counts" message on its sleeve.
While that is undeniably one of the film's intentions, many seem to be missing Swing Vote's wider reach. Costner's film - and performance - resonates, because it simultaneously expresses America's desire for an independent third party while giving credence to the flyover areas of our country that both politicians and Hollywood's cultural mouthpieces continually placate and pander to. Both Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane, playing the ideologically opposite campaign managers respond to the Southwestern epicenter of the film's plot - Texico, New Mexico - with: "is that even a real place" and "where in the hell is Texico?!?"
Coincidentally, Swing Vote also connects to the recent flip-flop maneuvering of both John McCain and Barack Obama as they inch closer to the ninety-day countdown before election day. In a sequence of hilarious, over-the-top campaign adds both Republican incumbent Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer), and Democratic challenger Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) compromise their convictions when they realize the Presidency rests in the hands of one voter. But director Joshua Michael Stern avoids trendy political cynicism by showing the strain on the faces of the candidates as they play the game. It makes you empathize with both McCain and Obama as they run the obstacle course towards November.
Swing Vote ain't perfect. Costner is good, but in moments he drifts into small town Southwest caricature. But his intentions are heartfelt and his methods are studied, unlike the goofball southern-Gothic fantasias of Junebug and David Gordon Green's George Washington. (For a southern setting film that gets it right, check out Jeff Nichol's recently to DVD Shotgun Stories, which incidentally is produced by Gordon Green ... looks like the apprentice out smarted the mentor. BOO YA!).
Sadly, Swing Vote came in at number six on this weekend's box office behind four films already in their second and third week runs. Maybe Costner's film is more timely and prescient than I had originally thought. In a year when everyone should be paying attention, apathy and nihilism (i.e. The Dark Knight) still reign supreme.