(Dir. Jay Roach, 2012)
Former Governor of Alaska turned Fox News pundit Sarah Palin has said that she wouldn’t watch this HBO telefilm, releasing today on Blu ray and DVD, but if she ever changes her mind I’m sure she’ll have an extremely surreal experience. Especially when watching scenes that show Julianne Moore’s pitch perfect Palin reacting negatively to seeing Tina Fey parody her on SNL.
GAME CHANGE, based on the 2010 book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, focuses on the 2008 presidential campaign from the point of view of John McCain’s (Ed Harris) staff, particularly the involvement of Woody Harrelson as Republican Party campaign strategist Steve Schmidt. The film begins with Schmidt being asked by Anderson Cooper after the fact, appearing via flawlessly inserted original interview footage, “If you had to do it over again, would you have her on the ticket?”
As the respectfully depicted McCain, Harris makes no attempt to mimic the candidate’s cadences (somewhat reminiscent of James Cromwell’s George Bush Sr. in Oliver Stone’s W), and that’s wise – two heavily accented impressions would be a bit much for this movie.
Intended as a behind the scenes look at the plotting, worrying, and tense talks that the McCain crew went through as a result of picking Palin for the pivotal Vice Presidential running mate position that, as history tells us, was not a successful decision. Palin’s greatest hits in the public arena are well depicted too: her disastrous Katie Couric interview (more expertly inserted video), her surprising performance in the debate with Joe Biden (some good humor here about her trying not to say O’Biden in the rehearsals), her accusing Obama with “palling around with a terrorist,” and the well documented incident of her being blocked from giving a concession speech on election night.
Its director Jay Roach and writer Danny Strong’s sharp almost satirical take on the material, which was also present in their previous 2005 HBO telefilm RECOUNT (about the 2000 Bush/Gore race), that made Roach’s 2012 Will Ferrell/Zach Galifianakis political spoof THE CAMPAIGN disappointing. Goes to show that the truth is often much more comical and absurd than what comedy writers can come up with.*
That said, GAME CHANGE largely plays Palin’s story straight. Harrelson and Harris don’t act like they’re in a farce; they both give believable grounded performances. Moore can’t help but pile on the ridiculousness in her portrayal, because, you know, the real Palin could be pretty damn ridiculous. Also accurately silly, are the sound-bites that come from her proto Tea Party supporters like one lady who says: “There’s something about her, she’s talking to me, and nobody talks to me!”
A real stand-out in the cast is Sarah Paulson as McCain/Palin campaign senior adviser Nicolle Wallace, who is on to Palin’s airheaded inexperience early on, and has a great comeback to Palin’s whining about understanding what Hillary (Clinton) meant by finding her own voice: Wallace: “Yeah, because you’re just like Hillary!”
Well made, well written, and very well acted, GAME CHANGE entertainingly captures one of the craziest and most memorable campaigns ever, reminding us of how weird it all was. I’m happy with the outcome of that strange race, which, it must be admitted, was an extremely surreal experience for everybody.
Special Features: A couple of watchable though hardly essential featurettes, “Creating a Candidate,” and “Game Change: The Phenomenon.” These extras are mainly good for footage of the real Palin that should show you how dead-on Moore’s portrayal is.
* THE CAMPAIGN was written by a couple of guys associated with the HBO show Eastbound & Down - Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell.