Sarah Palin’s aides have stated that people should not see the upcoming HBO movie Game Change, because it presents the former Vice Presidential candidate in “sick” light. When I heard that, I though, “God, this film is probably just completely soft, Julianne Moore looks spectactular in the previews, what are these people complaining about?”
Besides, the film is largely intended to be about the challenges of the modern political process. There was a strong sentiment that McCain’s campaign needed a “star” to compete with Obama. Sarah Palin was chosen over other, potentially more qualified candidates because of her obvious charisma and simple likability. Perhaps in part because the team wanted Sarah Palin to work, the vetting process, which had lasted weeks with other candidates, lasted a mere five days. In the film, it’s noted that during that process McCain’s team didn’t ask her any questions about issues (they wrongly assumed she knew that North and South Korea were separate countries) and instead just asked whether she’d be able to handle the pressure and background checks, and fully support McCain in his beliefs (even when they conflicted with her own). In the film it turns out she wasn’t able to handle any of that, but the issues would have been a good thing to check in on.
So there was no question in my mind that this was film that wasn’t going to shine a particularly negative light on Palin, so much as it would shine a negative light on the process and th age we live in. Especially since reviews seemed to say things along the lines of “Palin has nothing to worry about, she’s portrayed as a dedicated mother” or “she’s just a victim of the political process.”
Then I saw the movie and, wow. Sarah Palin doesn’t look good.
I want to stress that I think the movie’s depiction is entirely true. The movie is absolutely faithful to the book Game Change, and any additional information has been verified. It’s also a very good film, and absolutely one worth watching.
If Palin comes off seeming fairly awful, it may be because she deserves to, but it’s odd to pretend that this is a film where she comes off seeming anything but awful. And I’m not sure it humanizes her, unless the definition of “being human” is “being deeply unstable, uneducated and prone to hysterical outbursts, while also being desperately eager to please.”
In one notable scene Palin ends up weeping in a fetal position. Director Jay Roach remarked that “imagine being told, `Now we need you to debate a senator who’s been in office for three decades, and deliver some sort of knockout punch that will levitate us above Obama’! I would be in a fetal position inside of a bathroom, and you’d have to kick the door down to drag me out.”
Well, yes, but that’s why you did not go into politics. That is why that is not your job.
And yes, if this was Anna Wintour, or Margaret Thatcher or any other woman known for maintaining her dignity impeccably, this moment would make you feel for her, and lend her an element of humanity you don’t always associate with her. If it was an anomaly.
However, in the film, Palin is having a breakdown every single second. Curling up in a fetal position is in no way out of character. She lapses into catatonic states where she mumbles about wanting to sleep with her baby when prepping for interviews. She wastes $60,000 of campaign money for a poll to enhance her peace of mind. She screetches about how she hates looking fat. She scribbles information her team gives her like a grown-up Tracy Flick – but she fails to retain a word. The result is not so much that that she looks human as it is that she looks like “the definition of a hysterical woman you would never want to be president.” At one point, a member of the team turns to the camera and asks if anyone has considered the possibility that she’s mentally unstable.
Which may have how many people perceived Palin. But it doesn’t make her sympathetic.
If Sarah Palin was just legitimately an everywoman who was thrown into this position – and at the end, McCain reminds her that “she’s a hockey mom” – it would be wrong not to feel sympathy. But she wanted this position. The fact that Palin thought that she was qualified to be the Vice President without knowing who ran foreign countries implies a deluded level of self-confidence that’s simply horrific.
And wow, does she ever not know who run foreign countries in Game Change. At all. Perhaps one of the most horrifying scenes in the movie is when one of her advisers attempts to prep her for an interview by asking her how the McCain team will work with England on the war in Iraq given its unpopularity in England and she replies that McCain will be working closely with the Queen on that issue. Her campaign adviser (played by Woody Harrelson) gently – as you would a child – explains to her that the Queen is simply the Head of State in England. “So who’s the head of government, then?” she asks.
Shit. That is what Woody Harrelson’s character’s face does. It goes “shit.”
But no matter! Later, Palin’s husband reminds her what she did when she was faced with a difficult debate against an opponent in the past, and the opponent was armed with al kinds of “facts” and “figures” and presumably “actual information about issues.”
“I was so intimidated,” she said “I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then I looked out at the audience and I realized they didn’t know what he was talking about either!”
I do feel (hope?) that most people interested enough in politics to vote may not know that David Cameron is the Prime Minister of the UK, but they know that the UK has a Prime Minister. People have seen Love, Actually. That was Hugh Grant‘s character. Prime Minister. That’s why Martine McCutcheon was bringing him all those biscuits.
If your winning strategy is “I think most of the people who will be voting for me know shit about shit” well, that is… terrifying.
If you come away with one impression of Sarah Palin from Game Change, though perhaps it’s a harsh one, it’s that she ought to have known better. About the political process, about who ruled England, about how to manage her emotions, about, well, about just about everything.