So the US presidential election is over, and we can all breathe a nice sigh of relief that we won’t have to wear Mormon underwear (at least, that’s my understanding of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy). But seriously, I think it’s safe to say that most people outside of the US –in Ireland at least-were rooting for an Obama win, if not because he’s the best candidate in the world, because he’s not Romney. So while in Ireland we’re not really celebrating- though I’m sure America had the party of the century when Michael D Higgins was elected – you may want to enjoy the results with some relevant cinematic viewing.
While Obama’s re-election will not impact us as a nation specifically, as a country in the ‘Western’ world, we are directly impacted by changes implemented, especially with regards to Marriage Equality, so I have included some viewing that is relevant to this. The election may have been tense, specifically in the last few days, but there were some funny moments throughout (Binders full of women, I hear you say?) and so you will also find light hearted viewing on this list. So whatever your mood might be, hopefully you can enjoy some of these films in celebration of Barack Obama’s presidential win!
Let’s not forget that Obama-as successful presidential campaigner- was not the only victor for the side of Marriage equality this week. Wisconsin have the first openly gay senator in the US after Tammy Baldwin’s successful campaign, and there are now equal marriage rights in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington. Obama’s backing of Marriage equality was a long time coming, as we see that many things haven’t really changed since Harvey Milk’s time. But his support was a brave statement for the US president to make in an election year, and you don’t have to look too far on the internet to see how any people had a problem with this. In fact, Obama’s marriage equality and LGBT support gave Romney all the ammunition he needed in his own campaign, as he could attack Obama for trying to dismantle the ‘American Family’.
Milk is a 2008 biographical film, directed by Gus Van Sant, starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk- the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Winning an Academy Award for best screenplay (for Dustin Lance Black) the film follows Milk, from his beginnings in politics to his win in office, and his resulting assassination. Van Sant’s film also offers a view of Milk’s romantic life, as well as the support and community that arose for LGBT people in The Castro area of San Francisco in the 70s.
The marriage laws passed in the US this week now mean that 7 out of 52 states allow marriage, regardless of sexual orientation. That still leaves 45 states to go- and a whole planet with many more countries- including Ireland. Milk- while perhaps not with a happily ever after- shows us that we have moved on, maybe not fast enough, and certainly with far too many casualties along the way- but we are moving, and whatever else, that is something about Obama that can be celebrated.
How can I ignore Mean Girls, with all the internet memes and comments that were ongoing in the run up to the election? Obama may have won ‘Spring Fling Queen’, but he didn’t push anyone in front of any buses. With people referring to Mitt Romney as ‘Fetch’ (because it was never going to happen),to arguing that Obama understood the rules of feminism, Mean Girls (as it so often does in life) became a sort of allegory for the campaign.
Mean Girls (2004) marked the feature film writing debut for Tina Fey- who also starred as Ms Norbury, and marked the beginnings of careers for Amanda Seyfried and Lizzy Caplan. The film follows Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan in what was has been-sadly for her young age- the high point of her little career thus far) as she moves from home schooled life in rural Africa, to an American high school. Much about this is foreign to Cady, who is able to see parallels between the animal kingdom and the small world that is girls’ hierarchies. Cady befriends two social outcasts, and together they all plot to use Cady to bring about the downfall of the popular mean girl, Regina George (Rachel McAdams). In a series of events that would shock Macbeth, Cady is seduced by the mean girl world, and transforms into a clone of Regina George herself. I can’t think of anything more appropriate in political campaigns- with all of the smear, the name calling, the back handedness and money spent on hair and wardrobe- than a film about feuding teenage girls. Of course, Mean Girls has some pretty amazing morals, while what we’ve learned from the US presidency is less clear cut. There is no good and evil in the real world, no right or wrong. Obama is not without his flaws- and perhaps you may view him just as a lesser evil, but if that’s as good as we’re going to get then perhaps that is our form of a perfect movie ending for now. At the very least, I’m happy to know that Ms Norbury would be pleased with the election winner. The film is also of interest because it is one of still relatively few to feature a cast primarily made up of that elusive race that so bemuses Romney- women.
This year saw one of the most listened to and dirtiest campaigns in US history. In Election, we see how dirty a campaign can become, when it becomes the most important thing to a –decidedly disturbed- candidate. Election takes a look at just how power can corrupt, and how dangerous the pursuit of control can be to a person. And that’s just in high school.
Election (1999), which earned an Academy Award nomination for screenplay and a golden globe nomination for Witherspoon, is directed by Alexander Payne. The film follows the student body elections, which see overachiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) become obsessed with winning, and high school teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) equally obsessed with stopping her. Although a comedy, Election can be downright terrifying at times, as we see Flick go to insane lengths to get what she wants, and the effects that this has on McAllister, a grown man. It is difficult to know which character we, the audience, should be rooting for. Through voice over narration, we gain insight into the spiraling minds of Flick and McAllister, as well as other candidates Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) and Tammy Metzler(Jessica Campbell) . The characters in Election are all flawed in varying ways, and Payne does not shy away from pointing out that it is the election- or the pursuit of control- that creates this mania. The film satirises both the politics of high school life, as well as political campaign in general.
Election really gets into the madness and power dynamics that happen behind the campaign process, in a darkly comedic way, and I like to imagine Romney having a Tracy Flick-esqe tantrum in his offices, after the announcement that Obama had won presidency.
Similarly, this film has a lot to say about the election process. Starring John Heder as Napoleon, it is an independent comedy co-written and directed by husband and wife duo Jared and Jerusha Hess, and also stars Efren Ramirez as Pedro. The film follows high schooler Napoleon Dynamite as he befriends Deb (Tina Majorino)- the girl he has a child-like crush on- and Pedro- a Mexican transfer student. Napoleon then aids Pedro with his campaign for class president, against the decidedly more popular candidate Summer Wheatley. If this all sounds like a fairly standard and cohesive storyline, rest assured; it’s not. I tell only of the campaign plot, but much more is going on in this film that can’t really be expressed in words. Pedro’s campaign comes to an end with a less than impressive speech. Pedro also finds himself without a skit to perform- which is required of both candidates. Witnessing this, Napoleon jumps in, performing a unique dance to the Jamiroquai song Canned Heat, earning a standing ovation, and, ultimately, a victory for Pedro.
There are many similarities between this film and the Romney/Obama campaign- among them the amount of merchandise sold.’Vote for Pedro’t- shirts are still popular with youths, much like the stylised Obama ones. Also, Obama’s dance moves (as seen here) may not be as innovative as Napoleon’s, but it’s good to know that a leader can- and will- dance if necessary. Like both US presidential candidates, and so many campaign candidates before, Pedro may have overstated or hyperbolised his plans when he promised that voting for him would ensure the students’ “wildest dreams will come true”. Napoleon Dynamite may not look directly at the US political system, but it does observe some of the effects that popularity can have on a campaign, and it also features some of the best dance moves that could potentially save even the worst campaign.