Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir-scr Jon Stewart
prd Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Jon Stewart, Lila Yacoub
with Steve Carell, Chris Cooper, Rose Byrne, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne, Will Sasso, Brent Sexton, CJ Wilson, Eve Gordon, Bill Irwin, Debra Messing
release US/UK 26.Jun.20
20/US Focus 1h42

cooper sw grace

Watch it now...

carell and byrne
Opening in the chaotic wake of the 2016 presidential campaign, this comedy dives headlong into the mayhem of America's political landscape. Writer-director Jon Stewart knows the topic well, which makes the film funny and pointed as it skewers both politics and the media, carefully resisting the temptation to take sides. By bringing the absurdities of big-bucks campaigning into a small-town race, the film highights everything that's wrong with politics.
In Wisconsin, ex-Marine Jack (Cooper) stands up to a cruel local council and catches the attention of Democratic strategist Gary (Carell), who's trying to find a more "rural-friendly" message for his party. But Jack will only run for mayor if Gary personally manages his campaign. Then Gary's rival, Republican strategist Faith (Byrne), takes the bait, promoting incumbent Braun (Sexton). So Gary brings in his experts (including Grace and Lyonne). As these two powerhouse manipulators mobilise big-bucks backers and manoeuvre against each other, they drag global issues into the campaign simply to generate national news headlines.
It's wickedly observant how Gary and Faith ruthlessly target voters, down to a series of hilariously outrageous but eerily believable TV ads. Details in both characters and situations are astute, packed with an amusing dose of cynicism as Gary continually apologises for offending people. Unable to sit still for a second, he relentlessly tries to micromanage everything from online analytics to a herd of grazing cows. In a deliberately yucky subplot, he also flirts shamelessly with Jack's much younger daughter (Davis).

The sound of Gary locking his rental car tells us everything. Carell is hilarious as a city slicker out of his depth, unnerved that within hours everyone in town knows who he is, and all of his jokes land flat here. The tension between Gary and Faith is engaging and sharp-edged, with another note-perfect comical turn from Byrne. By contrast, Cooper brings his gravitas to this straight-talking man who continually calls out a corrupt system. And Davis has terrific presence as a local everyone underestimates.

As the story continues, the film becomes increasingly satirical in the way it highlights the dirty tricks that work ("She said it and now it's the truth!"). The campaign's ups and downs are entertaining, and they're underpinned by some solid personal comedy and drama. The trajectory of the plot demands that Gary finds his comeuppance, learning something from the Middle Americans he so casually dismisses. And sure enough, the final act carries a strong kick that raises even deeper issues while offering an inventive, hopeful solution.

cert 15 themes, language 24.Jun.20

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