by Cora Quigley
‘The Campaign’ opens with a montage of Will Ferrell’s character, Cam Brady, taking part in many instances of political manipulation. By the end of it the general public he addresses are led to believe that EVERYTHING is their nation’s backbone. Here the running theme of the film is established. Cam, the current congressman of North Carolina and in the beginning the only candidate for election, spouts what he would deem to be nonsense for his own political gain. His soon to be opponent, Marty Huggins, played by Zach Galifianakis, on the other hand would genuinely believe in the legitimacy of Cam’s claims. He is a Tourism Director for North Carolina, his good natured persona and love for his hometown seems to be rivalled by none. He is the stark opposite of Cam Brady. AND THAT’S THE JOKE.
Well, that is, it’s the premise around which most of the film’s jokes are based and what ultimately leads this film to be somewhat of a wasted opportunity. The first half of the film works somewhat better than the second; we see Marty’s good nature slowly corrupted by some money hungry capitalists,portrayed by John Lithgow and Dan Akroyd, who are running his campaign and the promise of political power. He thinks if he wins the election by any means then he can just go back to his usual good natured self once he’s in office, which of course isn’t the case. Cam, in the meantime, begins to question his own method of gaining public votes and wonders if the corruption is worth it.
What is interesting about the film is the fact that Marty isn’t vilified for his political leanings. There is fun poked at his religious nature and the fact that his family leads a rather unhealthy lifestyle, but there’s no ridicule or fat shaming involved in any of this. In fact, no character is free of critique or being made fun of because of their particular quirks. Rather than taking the side of the political right or left, the film attempts to critique American Politics in general rather than preach a particular stance or viewpoint. ‘Attempts’ being the keyword in that sentence. Beyond those involved in the campaign asserting a few times that big money is the only way to make it in politics in America, and also the idea that opening Chinese sweatshops on American soil is a bad thing; the film doesn’t really attempt to say much else. The idealistic happy ending also serves to undermine the issues the film brings up; if it were so easy to be honest, surely political corruption would already be a non-issue by this stage.
Of course, the demographic and audience that this film is aimed at probably don’t much care about such things, and that’s fine. Monty Python it is not, nor does it claim to be. In the end, it’s a bit of fun with some gross out humour in the guise of a political comedy in an attempt to appear relevant. The mains actors work well with what they’ve got, with Zach Galifianakis being utterly charming in his depiction of Marty and Dylan McDermott bringing just the right amount of creepy to his role as Marty’s campaign manager.
It is the crude, dumb jokes that sometimes work and sometimes don’t that ultimately leads ‘The Campaign’ to be a mixed bag. In the end it is perfectly fine. It’s good, but not great. It’s enjoyable but predictable. If you’re looking for a fresh take on political satire look elsewhere. If a silly take on the upcoming political elections and Will Ferrell being Will Ferrell is what you’re after then by all means go see it. Just don’t expect anything innovative.