Post-Election Entertainment

Political palate cleansers

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

After the 2016 presidential election, I stopped watching The West Wing. The award-winning Aaron Sorkin drama had been in the heavy rotation of background programs I watch while doing mundane tasks such as getting ready for work or cooking dinner. It wasn’t just its dramatization of a simpler, more idealistic time in American politics that made it impossible for me to watch—it’s a work of fiction, after all—more that after the brutal nature of the 2016 campaign, watching characters “walk and talk” their way to clear policy solutions felt out of touch with our political reality.

After an equally intense 2020 presidential campaign that became the longest week of our lives while the whole world waited to see which candidate would reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes, I’m not quite ready to put The West Wing back into rotation, but—surprisingly—I’m also not ready to give up the drama of politics just yet. Fictional politics, that is. I think we could all use a break from the real-world kind.

Where does one turn when looking for political content that offers escapism rather than high-stakes reality? To Hollywood, of course. The annals of cinema are rife with political movies, and I have written about several of them in recent months. However, sometimes you want a political movie without all the, well, politics. Per usual, I’ve got some suggestions that fall into that realm.

As previously mentioned, I love a movie that speaks to the power of the press. I also love classic films—or movies that are made to look like classic films. Good Night, and Good Luck falls into both of those categories. The movie tells the story of the 1950s Red Scare, but does so through the lens of Edward R. Murrow, titan of journalism (and former Skagitonian). Murrow takes on Sen. Joseph McCarthy during a time when fellow politicians and the press were reluctant to do so lest they be labeled communists themselves. When McCarthy does just that, Murrow, in straightforward and capable style, dismantles the accusation in such a way that it becomes clear the Senator’s witch hunt was based in no small part on lies and distortions of fact. The movie earned six Oscar nods, including a Best Director nomination for George Clooney for his first turn behind the camera.

If a political story from further back in our history is your thing, there’s no movie in which a titanic feat of acting takes on a titanic historic figure quite like Lincoln. In the 2012 biopic, the world’s greatest method actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, meets a legendary director, Steven Spielberg, and two award-winning writers, Tony Kushner and Doris Kearns Goodwin, to create a slice of American history that’s as insightful as it is riveting. Set during the Civil War, Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is bone tired and at odds with his cabinet over the emancipation of the slaves, yet he perseveres in his effort to get the 13th Amendment ratified. Day-Lewis’ stunning transformation into Lincoln made his 2013 Best Actor Oscar win the surest thing in Tinseltown that year. 

Depending on who was the inhabitant of the Oval Office at the time, I’ve often wondered whether me, a regular person possessing of a regular amount of common sense, could run the country better than a career politician or, in recent years, a semi-wealthy former reality show host. I mean, I can balance a checkbook, am prone to asking a lot of stupid questions when I don’t know something, and can tell right from wrong—what other qualities does a president really need to have? Exploring the idea of what could happen if a so-called “Average Joe” managed to attain the highest office in the land is the premise of Dave, the 1993 political comedy starring Kevin Kline as an accidental POTUS. At the start of the film, Dave Kovic has a side gig as a presidential impersonator. Following a stroke while engaging in some activity most unbecoming of the leader of the free world, the president falls into a coma and Dave is called upon to fill his shoes without anyone in the country knowing he’s not the real deal. Hijinks could and do ensue, but Dave isn’t just going for cheap jokes. Instead, as the title character, Kline’s POTUS is just an authentically nice, normal guy who brings in his accountant friend to help shave $650 million from the budget to fund, in part, a homeless shelter, and announces a program to employ every American who needs work. By the time he’s exposing the bad guys in the administration and coming clean to the country, you’ll remember what it’s like when the nice guys finish first. If ever you need a political palate cleanser, Dave will do the trick.

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