It was kind of nice seeing Will Ferrell in a movie again. I feel like it’s been ages since he last did a movie, even though Casa de mi Padre came out this year as well. Before that, his last movie was Megamind in 2010.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all actors followed suit? You know, take a break for a year or two from movies to let the audience have time to miss you (Hear that, Depp?) It just makes their return to the screen all the better. I can tell you right now that The Campaign wouldn’t have been as well-received by audiences had Will Ferrell not gone away for a while and then come back. Now, onward to the plot!
Here’s how Warner Bros. describes the plot: “When long-term congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of ultra-wealthy CEOs (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) plot to put up a rival candidate and gain influence over their North Carolina district. Their man: naïve Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local Tourism Center. At first, Marty appears to be the unlikeliest possible choice but with the help of his new benefactors’ support, a cutthroat campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) and his family’s political connections, he soon becomes a contender who gives the charismatic Cam plenty to worry about.”
I love a good political satire. No matter how dumb the movie’s comedy gets, it stands true in its underlying message. What’s that message, you ask? Proving just how incredibly stupid voters are (as well as how manipulative politicians are). Oh, you don’t agree that this was the message of this movie? Then why were there multiple scenes of political news anchors reporting on the spikes in the polls every time one of the candidates did something stupid—like when Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) shot Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) in the leg during a hunting outing, or when Cam released a sex tape with Marty’s wife? The writers of this script are making fun of those voters, who care less about what the candidate is doing for the country and more about their personal life. And if you don’t think this movie was released a few months before the election for a reason, then you’re just as big an idiot as the voters.
There are so many subtle jokes in this movie about politicians, political scandals, and the current presidential election that you could write a novel on it. In fact, let me cover one of those jokes right now…
The “Rainbowland/Communist Manifesto” joke was probably the best. “Rainbowland” was a story that Cam Brady had written in elementary school, and it was about a teddy bear sharing his gold with a leprechaun in a place where everyone was equal called Rainbowland (those of you who understand Communism see where this is going). Of course, during their campaign trail, Marty brings it up to use against Cam by stating that “Rainbowland” is Cam’s Communist Manifesto—what with its ideas of everyone being equal and the sharing of wealth.
Now, normally, people wouldn’t care what a candidate wrote in elementary school because they know kids have no concept of politics (or at least we hope they don’t); but, remember, this movie is satirizing how a candidate’s personal life becomes more important than what the candidate actually does in the midst of a political debate. And to make the joke even better and more effective, there are several characters at the debate who are roused only by the word “Communism” (just like your average idiot voter who knows nothing about what Communism actually is). This whole scene was political satire gold.
Unfortunately, there’s a downside to that political satire, and that’s the target demographic for this movie. Let me start by saying that I love Will Ferrell. I think he’s very talented and hilarious—and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Elf are in my top 20 favorite movies. But I can also admit that some of his movies (like Semi Pro, Land of the Lost, and Bewitched) were a waste of my time. There are plenty of people just like me who have this relationship with Will Ferrell comedies; we recognize the good, and we roll our eyes at the bad, as it should be.
That being said, there’s a certain demographic that goes to see Will Ferrell comedies, and they love every single one of them, no matter how stupid the plot or the jokes. They come to see movies like The Campaign because “Hey! Will Ferrell just punched a baby! That looks hilarious!” (And it was). But at the same time, these are the people that make me worry about political satires.
The average audience for these comedies is too stupid to understand the satire—in fact, they’re usually the same people we worry about when it comes time to vote. Ironically, they’re also the same people this movie makes fun of (the same people who don’t know Stephen Colbert is being ironic when he acts like an extreme right-winger).
When Will Ferrell makes a political satire like this one, I feel like it’s just furthering the political stupidity of his average audience. And that’s technically the reverse effect you want to have happen with a satire, which is supposed to use humor to get people to think in a new way about something. While I feel satisfied with the satire because I understand it, to that other audience, I feel the humor’s message is wasted.
Oh, and at one point, I actually turned to my boyfriend and said, “Oh my god, this movie is just the political version of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” And he agreed. Not good, Will Ferrell. Not good. And the part that made me realize it? Besides the fact that Will Ferrell used the same accent for Cam Brady as he did Ricky Bobby, it was the scene where his wife took the kids and left him because he was no longer the #1 candidate (kind of like when Ricky Bobby’s wife left him because he wasn’t the top racer anymore).
Because of that, the plot was much too predictable—like a rom-com. Halfway into their bitch-fight of a campaign, I knew Cam would give up his candidacy to Marty, and that he and Marty would become friends who work together. It was like the writers were sitting there saying, “You know what we should do? We should have Cam and Marty get so absorbed in their campaigns that their families fall apart and they hit rock bottom, so that we can make them have a completely respectable life turnaround in the end. Yay! Happy, predictable ending!”
Overall, this movie wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either. I mean that in the way that I didn’t hate seeing it, but I probably won’t buy it or rent it. There are some great one-liners, but there aren’t enough to redeem the lame jokes. As I mentioned above, the political satire in this movie is awesome; and I really hope it makes people think about what makes someone a worthy, political candidate. But at the same time, I feel like that political satire is wasted on an audience made up of douchey frat boys who don’t even know how to spell Congress, let alone understand how it works. If you’re a die-hard fan of Will Ferrell, you’ll probably love this movie. If, however, you’re a fan of Will Ferrell but dislike when he makes bad movies, then you might agree with me when I say this film should’ve been called Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Congressman Cam Brady. Movies like this make me worried for Anchorman 2, which I pray doesn’t suck.