Swing Vote – Review

Kevin Costner in a film that doesn’t stink? Impressive.

Image Courtesy of IMPawards.com

Director: Joshua Michael Stern
Notable Cast:
Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Kelsey Grammer, Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci

With this being a historic election year, political films take on a different light than they normally would. Films like the Robin Williams comedy Man of the Year or the dark comedy Wag the Dog have different interpretations based on the time of their release. Man of the Year reflects on the increasing reliance on alternative media for news in the modern age, whereas Wag the Dog was an interesting reflection on how the truth could be spun in the burgeoning digital age. Swing Vote, then, becomes an interesting film about the importance of being an informed voter in a weird sense.

Kevin Costner stars as Bud Johnson, a laid off factory worker who spends his days getting drunk and neglecting his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll). As it gets closer to Election Day, her reminders to him about voting go unheeded and he blows off voting in a drunken stupor. When his daughter sneaks past an election official and votes for him, a weird set of coincidences conspire to leave Johnson’s New Mexico deadlocked by one vote. New Mexico’s electoral votes will seal the election for either the incumbent President (Kelsey Grammer) or his opponent (Dennis Hopper). Johnson and his vote become much more significant, as his vote was not counted and his ability to revote technically determines who the next President of the United States is.

While a bit too sentimental at times, it’s an interesting take on the situation that has become politics in the country. While not vilifying one side for the other, an important necessity, the film’s crux is on how politics has moved from issues to images and how both candidates compromise a lot of what they ran on in order to win Bud’s vote. Only when his daughter, who acts as his conscious throughout the film, presses him does he begin to see what’s really happening and begin a progression from easily swayed voter to informed citizen.

If anything, the film’s central focus is on substance over everything else. We see both candidates, who genuinely want to do good deeds, get wrapped up in trying to win over everything else that it makes them compromise much of what they ran on in hilarious fashion. That’s the film’s strong point, its comedy, as the main points of the film are illustrated with hilarious results. Seeing a Republican campaign for the environment like a member of the Sierra Club, and a Democrat campaign against illegal immigration like a member of the new-age Minutmen “patrolling” the border, is comedic in and of itself in a contemporary sense. Maybe a decade from now it won’t be such a funny metaphor, but for the present it works.

The film’s comedy is so strong, however, that it winds up killing much of the drama inherent in the film’s screenplay. There’s always a punch line and a gag waiting around the corner; during the film’s main plot points the few one-liners thrown in ruin a lot of the drama built up. It leaves Swing Vote a step up in terms of political satire in this day and age, but nothing special.


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