Monday, August 04, 2008


***Not sure why, but it seems that at least 3 comments disappeared from this post. I'm trying to find out from Blogger why this happened. I didn't want anyone to think I was deleting comments.***

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.


Fletch said...

I like your take on this. As for your last paragraph, I agree, but if there's one thing we've learned from America (at large) time and again, it's that we hate to be edumacated at the movies. Or lectured to. They're obviously vastly different in genre, but it reminds me of Lions for Lambs, a movie that (while it has its failings) also has a terrific message that no one wanted to hear.

Marilyn said...

Damn, I thought I could easily skip this one. Now you've made me feel guilty that I probably won't see it. (I'm not getting out much for anything!)

Pat said...

I'm so happy to see another very positive review for "Swing Vote." I loved it, and I didn't find it overly preachy - just very entertaining.

Fox said...

Good point, Fletch, and I agree, but as Pat says, the nice thing about Swing Vote is that it avoids being heavy-handed or preachy. And as far as issues or stances it stays pretty balanced and down-the-middle as any poltically themed has in recent memory.

Even I, in my last paragraph, probably went a little too far... or, I expressed myself incorrectly. I sound like I am looking down on people that are disinterested in politics/voting, when in reality I don't. While I love voting, I totally respect someone's decision not too, and don't think it reflects his or her intelligence.

Thinking more on it, I think the popularity of The Dark Knight or Step Brothers vs. something more "warm-hearted" like Swing Vote notes a shift in our film culture.

I've noticed that Ebert and others have brought up a comparison to the feel-good-with-a-message Capra comedies in their Swing Vote reviews, and I think that's accurate. More so, b/c nowadays Capra gets treated as an idealistic, myth-clinging goober by some. Maybe it's regional, but in certain video stores in my town, if you take a Capra film to the counter you'll get a rolled back pair of eyes probably like you will when Swing Vote comes out.

Marilyn -

(I'm not getting out much for anything!)

Are you (and Jonathan?) the only person in America yet to see The Dark Knight?

bryan h. said...

You should mention that those workers at "certain video stores" are rolling very bloodshot, glassy eyes when they roll their eyes.

WaywardJam said...

Fletch & Fox, I am all for being edumacated by a film, but there's a thin line between teaching and preaching.

I don't think Swing Vote preaches thankfully, Lions for Lambs did more so. I think the problem with these movies are that in the world of 24hr news, the public grows weary of the repetitive soundbites and the creators tread a thin line when they decide to make the film.

It's sad because the war and the election deserve serious attention from everyone. But after you've heard the blowhards spew opinions for hours and hours on a MSNBC/CNN/Fox tuned TV during lunchbreak or on your local nightly news, you want to go to the movies to get away from it all.

As for Swing Vote, I enjoyed Costner immensely. The movie left too many points dangling for me to feel it was more than a decent film.

Fox said...

Wayward -

I would agree with that. I think escapism plays a role in the public's decision to stay away from a film like Swing Vote. Like you said, people - at home & work - are slammed with news and news personalities. Then they see the trailer for Swing Vote, and Chris Matthews, Tucker Carlson, and Ariana Huffington pop up in it. They're probably like... "no thanks". I don't blame them. Personally, I trusted Kevin Costner's instincts, so I felt the film had a chance. And to me, it succeeded.

I also think modern filmmakers have done a poor job of connecting with viewers on issue films ranging from the Iraq War, global warming, illegal immigration, gay marriage, the death penalty, etc. I think viewers want to see their thoughts, their conflicts, their doubts, and their feelings expressed on screen without feeling like it's a lesson. Wayward, I think you're right in that Swing Vote kinda straddles that line.

Bryan -

I had an experience recently where one of the workers was in the process of tying on that "bloodshot and glassy eye" look. He confused the accounts and videos of mine and the guy next to me... all why trying to keep his sights on Mrs. Doubtfire playing on the tv behind him.

In any other setting, such service would infuriate me, but at this place - nestled in between a porn shop and a pizza shop... you know it well - I just laughed.

WaywardJam said...

Modern filmmakers need to be more creative to lull audiences into digesting their issue films.

Your dvd rental shop is nestled b/w a porn and pizza place? What magical place do you live in?!

nick plowman said...

I really don't want to see this, I have like zero interest in it. And I used to be a Costner fan...sorta

Fox said...

Costner really woos me. Some of that might be an emotional attachment from having grown up with his feel-good movies that made me feel good,... but I really enjoy the everyman nature of him and his characters. He seems, to me, classical in that way. Like a Gary Cooper. I tend to find that lacking in a lot of new American actors. Actually, I think I connect with British actors these days more than American.