Director Jay Roach had a bit of a political 2012. He made the HBO Sarah Palin biopic Game Change and the comedy The Campaign. For my money it was the former that was the most successful.
The Campaign is the sort of movie that will divide audiences – if you don’t mind films that leave reality in the dust and find their humour in stupidity, you’ll probably like it, but if you want your films to have some sort of logic to them, you’ll probably give up about 20 minutes in.
Will Ferrell plays Cam Brady, the long-time congressman of North Carolina’s 14th district. He’s expecting to run unopposed for re-election but two corrupt businessmen have come up with a plan they think will allow them to import cheap Chinese labour into the country. They want to get schlubby everyman Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) into office – even if Marty doesn’t know that’s what they’re hoping for.
Huggins initially wants a clean, honest race, but Cam isn’t about to let that happen. He’s an old political hand who will stop at nothing to win, no matter how low he has to stoop. The rivalry builds until Marty’s also using every underhanded trick he can think of to win – but will he lose his humanity in order to triumph?
As mentioned above, this is an audience divider. There are a lot of things that in isolation are pretty funny, but in the context of the plot are so ridiculous that if you need even a tiny sliver of believability in your movies, it won’t work. For example, at one point Cam (accidentally) punches a baby in the face. While some may be shocked at the idea, it is actually pretty funny. However there is no way a politician can punch a baby and their campaign will survive – but in this film it’s hardly more than a blip.
That’s just the start of a series of events that are so over the top – and sometimes criminal – that while potentially amusing as individual scenes, as a whole they make the entire thing unbelievably daft. There’s a slight feeling of this trying to be a satire, winking at the sort of things politicians do and the ways they attempt to come back from them, but for me it was all too stupid and removed from any sense of logic to really be able to say anything. However the person I watched with it liked it a lot, largely because it was so daft and stupid.
However what we both agreed on is that Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are very good and seem well matched as comedy sparring partners. Galifianakis in particular gives his all and genuinely tries to create a fully rounded character in a role where most people would simply have gone for broad strokes. Both leads find more humour in individual scenes than the setups perhaps deserve, but they’re slightly hamstrung by the fact that as the minutes go by it makes less and less sense.
Some have criticised it for having an over the top sentimental streak, but the problem isn’t the sentimentality, it’s the fact that whenever it erupts it seems at odds with the brash, anything goes humour that’s going on the rest of the time. Indeed, it might have been easier to accept that this no holds barred political battle if it weren’t for the occasional eruption of ‘wouldn’t it be better if politics were less scummy’ sentiment. Yes it would, but no matter how bad elections can get, they’re nothing like this.
The DVD edition also includes a few okay deleted scenes that are vaguely amusing, although you can tell why they were cut as they’d have slowed the film down. However if you want more, you’ll have to get the Blu-ray version.
Overall Verdict: If you don’t mind your comedies flying far from the land of logic and the suspension of disbelief, there’s plenty to laugh at in The Campaign, but if you demand some thread of sense, it’s best to look elsewhere.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac