Note: There are spoilers ahead (as if you did not already know what happened)
“That didn’t really happen.”
That is what my 12-year-old godson said as he watched the scene Sarah Palin furiously scribble down notes on World War II.
My godson watched HBO’s Game Change with a smirk. He could not believe that anyone could be as unprepared as Sarah Palin.
The film was based on the 2010 book that covered the 2008 presidential primary campaigns. It used the second part of the book, which focused on the McCain campaign and their decision to bring in Sarah Palin as the Vice President nominee.
While I am sure that the right will hate this film on a visceral level, it is actually quite fair to all the figures. Palin is not presented as a “you betcha!” clod, but an ambitious woman way out of her element. As soon as you want to pull your hair out over some moronic statement she makes, the next scene shows her as vulnerable and stressed out from the rigors of the campaign and constant media attacks.
Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, and Ed Harris give stellar performances as Palin, Steve Schmidt, and John McCain. No one is presented as a caricature or a joke. It is very well acted, and Harrelson and Moore will likely win a Golden Globe for their performances.
For those who read the book, the film tells a heavily compressed version of the story. Some events were skipped (like McCain realizing that the crowds would not show up if Palin was not with him), while other parts were added in (like portions of Palin’s near breakdown).
What I liked about the film and the book is that we get to see how soon the McCain campaign realized that Palin was not the best choice. It was pretty quick, which is why they did not want her doing any interviews. It was obvious from the start that she was not prepared to deal with the media scrutiny. We also saw in the book and the film that Palin was more concerned about Alaskan politics than the campaign, and far more concerned about her position than McCain’s.
One of the best moments of the film is when Palin tries to push her speech on the day President Obama won. If anyone can recall, just after the official results came in there was chatter that Palin may speak along with McCain. Of course, that has never been done before, but that did not stop Palin from pushing for it. The showdown between her and Schmidt is amazing.
I think this is an important and relevant film given that this is an election year. The nastiness we see today began back in 2008. It did not start with the McCain campaign, but they certainly ratcheted it up. Four years later, things are so divided that we cannot get anything done even when we agree on the same issues.
Game Change shows the impact of the choices people make when they want to win more than anything else. While I doubt President Obama will make any power grab choices, I am not sure that the Republican nominee, whomever he may be, will not fall into the same trap McCain did. Already the nominees have gone so far to the right that come the primary season the Obama campaign can just use the debate footage to hammer the Republican nominee. How any of them will manage to win over moderates and independents given the positions they have taken?
There is one thing I wished the film included: the Obama/Clinton brawl. That made up the bulk of the book, and it is quite riveting. They really did not like each other, and behind the scenes Democrats ditched Hilary like she was the transforming vacuum ship in Space Balls. Maybe HBO might make a film about that. How they will cram all of that into two-hours is anyone’s guess, but it would be a damn good movie.