Swing Vote (2008)

Rated: PG-13 for language.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: DD-DC=D
Budget: $21 million
Box Office: $24 million (16 U.S., 1 Intl., 7 DVD)

Written by: Jason Richman (Bangkok Dangerous and Bad Company) and Joshua Michael Stern (Nothing noteworthy).
Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern (Nothing noteworthy).
Starring: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll, Paula Patton, Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Lane, with George Lopez, Judge Reinhold, Mare Winningham, Willie Nelson, and talking heads like Ariana Huffington, Larry King, Bill Maher, James Carville, Tucker Carlson, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Chris Matthews.

The daughter of a drunk tries to vote for her father, but a power outage causes the ballot to get stuck. This turns out to be the decisive vote in the Presidential election, and chaos comes to town as the candidates try to persuade him to vote for them.

Entertainment Value: D
This is an example of a movie that could-have-been. Could have been funny. Could have been moving. Could have been persuasive. Could have been entertaining. It’s a total mishmash of ethical questions and a vision of the average American as incompetent that just winds up falling under the weight of it’s own self-importance. Sort of like liberal radio made for the big screen. It saddens me because it really could have been something quite good. It wasn’t.

Superficial Content: D-
Drugs/Alcohol D, Sex/Nudity A, Violence B, Language D
I would have given this an R rating for just the language alone. But apparently the rule is: one F-word and any amount of other profanity is acceptable. Seriously. I don’t normally count, but I had to in this case just to keep it interesting. No less than 15 S-words and about 10-15 other medium profanity. Why? For no reason whatsoever. Also, the main character is continually drinking or drunk and the mother is a former drug-user with mental problems. Adult themes are pretty strong in this movie, which I’m surprised isn’t mentioned in the ratings.

Significant Content: D
Okay, excuse my language in advance, but the only way to describe the message of this movie is as follows. Americans are ignorant rubes, journalists are corpse-feeing vultures, and politicians are whores. And when the electorate are idiots, democracy just can’t work because the leaders will either cater to their lunatic demands or simply lie to them, both of which are bad. America should be embarrassed of itself. Oh, yeah, and one vote matters…just be sure you vote with your heart.

Artistic/Thought Value: D
The beautiful irony of this movie is that while it intends on the one hand to portray the greedy slime-ball characteristics of journalists and politicians, it has sold product placements every ten seconds within the movie itself. Budweiser and Bass Pro Shops are primary sponsors, but Ritz crackers, Old Spice, and Dodge get honorable mentions as well. Aside from this irony, the problem here is a lot the same as the problem with last year’s An American Carol (also with Kelsey Grammer). The trick in movies (and art in general) is to make your point in a way that the audience enjoys seeing you make it and feels like you’ve done so in an innovative and meaningful way. Instead, this movie just seeks to portray every aspect of America as crashing. In short, the root of this movie is contempt for rather than love and respect for American politics. That’s why all the talking heads were liberals (with a squishy Tucker Carlson). There’s just anger and frustration here, without the necessary humility which makes space for humor and self-mockery. I will say this, the best moment in the film is seeing the candidates reverse their long-standing positions, culminating in Dennis Hopper (a pro-choice Democrat) doing an ad which entails children on a playground exploding out of existence to represent the evil of abortion.

Discussion Questions:
~On a 1-10 scale, where a 10 views current politicians as they are portrayed in this movie and a 1 as if they are all virtuous truth-tellers, where do you generally think politicians are? Can you imagine anything worse than the situation this movie portrays? What about dictators?
~Do you think politicians exploit the issues voters care about by promising to work on them but then blaming their opponents for the inability to get things changed? Do you think politicians change their positions merely for electoral gains? How would you verify such suspicions?
~It’s long been held that the precondition of any Republic (representative democracy) lasting is educated, concerned, decent people. What happens when the people fail to be this? Are Americans as bad as this movie portrays?
~This movie is highly critical of journalists who choose money, ratings, and getting the scoop over honor and decency. How much faith do you have in modern journalists?
~Given that the entire premise of this movie is a felony (voter fraud) and then covering that felony up (conspiracy and abetting after the fact), what do you think of the decision to not tell the truth?
~Molly desperately wants a father she can be proud of and respect. What things does she do to try to make this happen? How should she have reacted to having such a louse s a father? What is the Biblical instruction here? Have you ever been disappointed in your parents? How did you handle it? Have you ever felt like you needed to be the parent in your relationship with them? What sort of effects would that have on someone?
~Looking at Molly’s parents, does her character seem a very likely outcome of their relationship?
~The movie clearly wants Americans to be embarrassed of our political ignorance and to reform our ways. Do you think it is effective at persuading us to repent in this way?
~The final moments of the film include a question asking, essentially, “If America is so great, why can’t we afford to live here?” How would you answer such a question?
~If you were making this movie with these themes and purposes, how would you have made it differently?
It’s been said that if you aren’t a liberal before you’re 30, you have no heart, but if you’re still a liberal after that, you have no mind. What do you think?
~Do you believe that every vote counts? Do you think it’s arrogant to say, “I won’t vote because my vote won’t be the decisive one?”
~If you had your preference, would someone like Bud be allowed to vote? If you could have your way, what would you do to improve the quality of the American voter?
Overall Grade: D
A movie that could-have-been about how politics and journalism should-have-been. It’s nice to see na├»ve optimism and civic responsibility win in the end, but calling this heavy-handed and unproductively depressing would be an understatement.

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