The Campaign report – 7 August 2012
On Sunday night we went to the Australian preview “red carpet” screening of the new Will Ferrell film The Campaign. The gala screening took place at the Hoyts Entertainment complex at Fox Studios in Sydney’s Moore Park, with the movie’s primary star, Will Ferrell, in attendance, giving a brief and reasonably funny introduction. It’s a lovely cinema – superior to anything I have been at in the USA – and we were treated “royally”, with giveaways for the film (stickers, face masks, buttons) along with free popcorn and bottles of water for everyone.
Lots of minor Australian celebrities attended, and almost everyone (excepting me and my companion) there seemed to be between age 25 and 40.
I am fascinated that Will Ferrell actually came to Australia – a good 14 hour plane trip from Los Angeles (and no short-cutting that trip, I know from long experience) at this stage in the film’s release, as it opens in North America this coming Friday – August 10th, with special midnight screenings from the night before. Although I have not done a detailed analysis of comparative Ferrell box office between the two countries, I know that we love Ferrell’s work here in Australia. But still, it’s hard for me to believe that Australia’s box office is that significant that Ferrell would take what would have to be at least 72 hours to come to Sydney in the few days before the film’s worldwide release. When I did the research for my PhD thesis (degree received from Macquarie University earlier this year – 2012), I found out that (as of 2003), Australia was ranked sixth top foreign market for American films, after Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain and France. That’s pretty good, but was it really worth an Australian trip for the sixth market, right now? A number of people at Warner Brothers clearly thought so, as did Ferrell. Nice for us down under, I guess.
(As an aside – of little interest to Warners or Ferrell – in 2003, on a per capita return basis, of the top eight box office countries consuming American films, Australia actually rated first, with an average of $AUD8.34 per person, significantly higher than all other countries. But more on that another time.)
Curiously, the film’s Australian distributor (Village Roadshow) requested that no “print” reviews appear before Tuesday 7th August, as the film opens here in Australia on Thursday 9th August. This is indeed an almost archaic request, given media convergence, the dramatic decline of print film reviews and the tendency of young people to read reviews online. But on the other hand the request also seems to respect the power of print, which is certainly encouraging for those of us who mourn the continued decline of classic newspapers under the new media onslaught of the digital business model.
The Campaign runs a tight 97 minutes and is directed by Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Austin Powers), and has a quality cast, including Jason Sudeikis as Ferrell’s character’s campaign manager, Dylan McDermott as a shadowy campaign manager for Zach Galifianakis’ character, John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd as two conniving industrialists and Brian Cox as Galifianakis’ character’s unloving father. There are some women also, but no name stars and they are secondary to the action, the plot and the audience. Yes, this is a man’s man film, pretty much from start to finish. Target age I’d say is between 20 and 40: it’s actually rated “R” in the USA, although the Australian rating does not appear to be confirmed yet (update to come).
The film’s description from the Village Roadshow website:
When long-term congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) commits a major public gaffe before an upcoming election, a pair of ultra-wealthy CEOs 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 and his family’s political connections, he soon becomes a contender who gives the charismatic Cam plenty to worry about.
As election day closes in, the two are locked in a dead heat, with insults quickly escalating to injury until all they care about is burying each other, in this mud-slinging, back-stabbing, home-wrecking comedy from Meet the Parents director Jay Roach that takes today’s political circus to its logical next level. Because even when you think campaign ethics have hit rock bottom, there’s room to dig a whole lot deeper.
My analysis: Undoubtedly this is a very funny movie, and the first film I can recall that attempts to satirise campaign finance and ethics (although I don’t know how many Australians are familiar with the McCain Feingold Act, since disallowed by the US Supreme Court, in a truly nasty decision). There are a number of truly outrageous scenes that will most likely enter movie lore as classic comedy. There’s a nipple scene (no more said), a baby hitting and a dog hitting scene – all close to the There’s Something About Mary classic comedy. So good on ‘em for not pulling their punches.
But there’s also an odd tonal inconsistency: both the Cam Brady and Mary Huggins characters span from nasty to idiotic to sympathetic – sort of a “dumb and dumber”. Idiotic and sympathetic I can take, but the occasional nastiness was at times too much.
And I was left in a true historical vacuum: any US congressional election takes place in the context of a national election of all members of the US House of Representatives. And if it is to be set in 2012, a Presidential election as well (and two out of three times in each state, a senatorial election). But no mention in The Candidate of any other elections – sort of like a “school board” election, no impact by national politics. Not only curious, but distinctly illogical. I could go on, but I guess that’s not the point. Perhaps I was expecting too much.
Official film trailer:
And a fabulous fake “Cam Brady” and Marty Huggins election ads (both classic comedy):