Swing Vote

in Comedy, Drama, Not-A-Dick Flicks

Best Ever. Period.

  • Stars: Kevin Costner, Madeline Carroll
  • Directors: Joshua Michael Stern
  • Writers: Jason Richman, Joshua Michael Stern

Comedies can make you roar with laughter.  Political farce can make you roar with laughter while simultaneously turning your stomach.  But comedy is a thousand times more effective when it has something to say, a point that sticks in your brain long after the laughter has faded away.  “Swing Vote,” so obviously geared toward grins and satire, sneaks up on you while you’re still snickering and knocks you off your feet.

When deadbeat drunkard Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner, playing radically against type) stands his ten-year-old daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll) up on the day of the presidential election, a desperate Molly sneaks into the polling booth and casts a vote in Bud’s stead.  The next thing they know, the Secret Service and a thousand media vans are parked outside the duo’s rickety trailer home.  Through a series of coincidences that would be impossible to believe were it not for the Bush-Gore debacle of 2000, the election has come down to literally Bud’s one vote.  Now the two presidential candidates, their campaign teams, and the entire known universe are swarming the tiny town of Texico, New Mexico to try to win Bud’s vote.

In a spectacularly counter-intuitive casting move, Kelsey Grammer plays the confident, disingenuous, conservative sitting president to Dennis Hopper’s meeker, earnest, and even whiny liberal challenger.  With excellent support from Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci, Paula Patton, and George Lopez, their antics as they pander to what they believe to be Bud’s political views provide a riotous yet eerily candid snapshot of how far politicians will go to get elected.  Don’t worry, there’s no agenda; both sides of the political spectrum get hammered equally.  But the meat of the film, the thing that sucker-punches you while you’re gasping for air, rests with Costner and his able young costar Carroll.

You can love Kevin Costner or you can hate him, but you can’t deny that this may be his most brilliant performance yet.  Costner’s Bud is about the dumbest, hickest, most ignorant, neglectful, unlikable, irresponsible, uninformed, bass-ackwards hillbilly you could ever hope not to meet.  He has no business playing single parent to Molly, who shoves him out of bed in the morning, nags him about his obligations, puts food on the table, and drags his hungover ass to work (at an egg factory) every day.

Molly is the adult of the household, and she’s damn smart to boot.  Carroll’s eyes burn through steel when she chastises Bud for blowing off his civic duty to vote for his elected officials.  She doesn’t even call him Dad, in fact, just Bud.  Yet Bud still expects his kiss when he drops her off (late) at school.  And Molly reluctantly gives in because, well, he’s still her dad and she’s still ten and she loves him anyway.

Make no mistake:  Carroll and Costner are the stars of this film, however the credits may play out.  Young Carroll matches one of Hollywood’s biggest names line for line, and the screen explodes when they’re face to face.  For beneath all the political hot-button farce, it’s the story of a father and daughter who struggle and claw their way through every waking hour but can never quite scrape together enough, financially or otherwise.  It’s a story far too common in our society of iPads and HD-TVs but not often realistically portrayed in popular culture.  Maybe Bud doesn’t work as hard as he possibly can for Molly.  But he does try, and the bond they share runs deep.  You can feel it when Bud thinks CPS has dropped the axe on their tiny family, when Molly confides in the boy at school (Shawn Prince) who is stuck in similarly desperate circumstances.  Charles “Chip” Esten (of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” notoriety) delivers a beautiful yet nearly invisible performance as their Secret Service sentinel, and there’s a wrenching scene with a near-cameo by Mare Winningham that may leave you wondering how this movie wound up on the comedy shelf at all.

Costner clearly had the time of his life being Bud, and DickFlicks eagerly anticipates any future projects Madeline Carroll chooses to grace.  Writers Jason Richman and Joshua Michael Stern (Stern also directed) may or may not have realized where their political spoof was headed.  But sometimes it takes a raucous and almost unrelated cover story to reveal the real narrative that’s begging to come to light.  Rightfully touted as a clever and insightful comedy, what “Swing Vote” taps into beneath the surface will leave you reeling.

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