The Campaign is a well-timed, well-played comedy about the ridiculousness of modern politics. We’ve all been witnesses to the outrageous tactics candidates take to get ahead – and this movie skewers them head on. What’s perhaps funniest is that it doesn’t seem that far off from actual political campaigns. It’s an exaggerated version, sure, but it rings true in many respects. That may have something to do with the deft hand of director Jay Roach, who’s directed HBO based-on-a-true-story political dramas Recount and Game Change. Roach, along with the hilarious talents of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, whip The Campaign into a satire supreme.
Ferrell is Cam Brady, a North Carolina Congressman used to running unopposed. With the dimwitted drawl of a George W. Bush and the combed coif of a John Edwards, he’s that politician who talks real smooth without really ever saying anything at all. He bats around words like “America,” “Jesus,” and “Freedom” and people eat it up. He’s pretty much a shoe-in for another term, until Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) comes along. Marty’s a local tour guide with a friendly spirit and the gentle voice of a middle-aged woman. He’s an odd one to be sure, but thanks to Galifianakis’ performance, he’s not just a caricature. You actually feel for this guy. Because of his naivete, Marty gets picked to run in the election by two ruthless businessmen, the Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd), who want to knock Cam out so they can push their own agenda through the easily-manipulated Marty.
At first, the overconfident Cam and his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis) view Marty as a joke. And to be fair, Marty makes it easy. I mean, the guy can’t even manage the simple of task of figuring out whether to push or pull a door! But with the help of a slick campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) of his own, Marty is able to transform his image and become a real threat to Cam.
The movie is at its best when Cam and Marty are playing dirty. The more over-the-top their tactics gets, the more entertaining it becomes. In one instance, Marty makes a campaign video in which he gets Cam’s son to call him “Dad.” For revenge, Cam has sex with Marty’s lonely wife and leaks a video of it to the media. The TV pundits (all playing themselves) added an extra dose of funny by discussing these tactics in all seriousness.
The pairing of Ferrell and Galifianakis feels so natural you’d swear they’ve been in other movies together. It’s a delight watching them go head to head; particularly, in a debate scene where Marty forces Cam to recite the Lord’s Prayer, which Cam tries – and hilariously fails – to do. (Great miming work by Sudeikis as he tries to act out the words for Cam incidentally.) Or in a
town hall meeting-style debate where Marty unveils a book Cam wrote as a child called “Rainbow Land” and tries to pass it off as a Communist manifesto.
And it’s not just the politicians who are taken to task here, it’s the Americans voting for them! Cam and Marty may be dishing out crap, but the voters are completely buying into it. Just watch the one guy who gets all riled up over the “Rainbow Land” manifesto and you can almost picture something similar happening in today’s world over something equally as ridiculous. The Campaign doesn’t shy away from pointing out how gullible and uninformed this country can be.
What falls flat is the subplot involving the Motch brothers and their ludicrous plan to sell North Carolina’s 14th district to China. Or something like that. It was almost too silly to even pay attention to. It’s also the most predictable aspect of the film, because you know from the start the Motch brothers will never win.
Put this movie under the “was funnier than I thought it was going to be” category. And underneath the laughs was some real commentary about the state of politics today, which I guess also means the movie “was smarter than I thought it was going to be” too. The Campaign has my vote.
Two rival North Carolina politicians with presidential aspirations tangle with one another.