Friday, May 24, 2013

Derp Blog Into Darkness #21: PRIMARY COLORS

In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.

Another movie whose revisiting was dreaded by Ella. I was amazed at her actually sitting through it with me – the first of her subsection of “Ugh, why did I ever buy that movies” for which she had done so. She claimed she’d only seen it the once, when she was far less discerning, and maybe it’d be a good chance to re-evaluate it. It was for nought, however, as she started playing with her phone about 30 minutes in. A true failure of a movie, then, holding no interest for casual viewers and dilettantes alike. When I inquired about what precisely turned her off, I got as a response the fact that all the characters were schemers and hypocrites and liars, but not in that outsized Game of Thrones way, just your regular old political bastardry, which rendered the whole thing uninteresting to watch.

I quite liked it, as I am finding to be the case with plenty of movies in this particular subgenre! After trudging through the first season of The West Wing and having found my intelligence thoroughly insulted on many occasions, PRIMARY COLORS felt like a nice dose of unpleasant reality with regards to politics on that level. John Travolta and Emma Thompson are First Couple-hopefuls Jack and Susan Stanton, a thinly veiled send-up of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The story is told through the eyes of new campaign manager Henry (Adrian Lester) – a *gasp* black! He’s really taken in with Stanton as the governor visits an adult literacy program in Henry’s home city. His girlfriend is understandably skeptical and tells him to focus on more immediate, community-centered goals, but soon Henry is whisked away to join the national circus. For much of the first act, he keeps in touch with his girlfriend over the phone, trying to convince her that “this guy is the real deal!” The movie’s grey enough to not have Stanton be a complete asshole OR “the real deal”. When we meet him, he gives a heartfelt speech about his illiterate grampappy, followed immediately by Henry catching him banging the teacher at campaign HQ the next scene. In debates, however, Stanton’s polite and respectful, agreeing with and even lauding his opponents at times. Behind the scenes, he’s constantly adamant that the campaign not “go negative” with attack ads and the like, but focus on the message. So we’ve got a pretty (personally) sleazy, but relatively (politically) honorable guy here. Of course, shit starts going off the rails, and the Stantons find their lofty ideals put to the test as they start going ever so imperceptibly slowly down that slippery moral slope – and so does Henry.

Special mention I feel should go out to Kathy Bates as Libby, the Stantons’ unstable lesbian college buddy and self-proclaimed “dust buster”. She basically cleans up any messes that Jack makes, but will not go digging for dirt on opponents due to her beliefs. She gives a funny, emotional and heartfelt performance which she apparently got an Oscar nom for. Kudos to her, I say! When do women of a certain age and (sorry) weight ever get to have cool parts like that? In that vein, Henry’s capacity as story focalizer is cool, cuz it’s not a “black” movie. While his race is acknowledged in a few scenes*, he’s not The Black Guy. He even has an affair with a white co-worker that sort of happens between scenes, without much fanfare. Any movie that just sort of presents gay and interracial couples as a given and doesn’t dwell upon them is a-okay in my book. If it’s well-written, witty, well-acted and delivers some nice political burns in the meantime – well, you’ve got yourself a good movie there!

I was under the impression that, like with Robert Altman’s A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION, this was my first beginning-to-end viewing of a movie by a fancy pants filmmaker, in this case Mike Nichols. But no! I had already seen CLOSER, which I also found a good movie, if not for the faint of heart. While PRIMARY COLORS held no personal revelations to me as CLOSER did**, it’s still an interesting (if no doubt still pretty white-washed) look at American politics for those who haven’t seen the third season of The Wire.

*Mostly by friends of Henry’s, telling him to face the reality that a guy like Stanton isn’t gonna do anything for his community.

**Jude Law, M.D., informing me that “wanking” is applicable to women as well.

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