Home > Film, Politics, Reviews > Film Review: Swing Vote

Film Review: Swing Vote

Swing Vote (2008; Directed by Joshua Michael Stern)

If this is the only kind of political “satire” that can get made and distributed on a mass scale in America, then the country is in more trouble than once thought.

There are certainly things that work in this stew of kid-gloves satire, overworked family drama, and laboured celebration of the Average American Dumbass. The days that Kevin Costner was Hollywood’s go-to Everyman are well behind him, but his Bud Johnson is a decent cipher for a white trash loser with no opinions on anything here. As his precocious daughter (all that needs to be known about her is that, when she grows up, she wants to be “either a veterinarian, or Chairman of the Fed”), Madeline Carroll is smartass beyond her years, but is also the heart of a movie that often substitutes sharp intellectual thrusts for swelling emotional high points. And Kelsey Grammer is the subtle surprise, giving depth, colour, and nuance to a Republican President who could have been a mere string of veiled Dubya jokes.

But any film about American politics must be judged on what it has to say about a system that all agree is way off the road but no one seems to know how to pull out of the ditch. Director Joshua Michael Stern is occasionally able to stage a decent satirical sequence: the campaign ads that bend over backwards to appeal to Bud’s vaguely expressed positions are often hilarious. Republicans for gay marriage, Democrats skewing pro-life and anti-immigration; there’s some sly fun poked at the immovable positions on issues that have come to define the American two-party system.

But what’s the larger point here, and what does it really signify? The movie’s concept – that a voting machine malfunction in rural New Mexico leads to the Presidential Election being decided by a single voter, namely Bud – is a heavy-handed fictionalization of the sliver-thin margins that characterized both of George W. Bush’s lamentable victories. The relatively empty phrase “Every vote counts” is repeated many times, a point which the film’s central conceit makes strongly enough on its own but nonetheless should be obvious enough after two real-world elections decided by a few measly counties. If anything, the film puts the onus for meaningful change on neither party, but rather on the fundamental civic duties and social responsibilities of every voter. Inform yourself and vote, Swing Vote tells us, and everything will right itself. It’s a nice, fuzzy, centre-left Hollywood message that predictably ignores large-scale systemic overhaul for a feel-good self-help personal transformation. And thus, despite its occasional sharpness, the film ends up being relatively useless, in the end.

Categories: Film, Politics, Reviews
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