Political Campaigns call for Comfort Flicks
by Stacy Opalewski Walsh
I’ve been living in a sick house for two weeks. In times like these, when there is no other escape, I turn to my favorite art: film. With two young children I rarely get to indulge in this pastime, and almost never in a theatre. Since our habit has weakened, my husband and I have downgraded to streaming + the one-DVD-at-a-time plan from Netflix. That one lonely DVD can sit near the TV for months before we finally take notice and pop it in.
Such was the case this past week when I dusted off the red-and-white envelope and found Ides of March, released in 2011, directed by and starring George Clooney.
It should be noted the film was released well before the current presidential election was underway, and I remember seeing the previews, hearing about how Clooney came to scout Grand Rapids for potential filming locations, only to be so turned off (by what I don’t know) that he proclaimed he would never film in this city. But I digress.
All I really knew is that it was supposed to be a “political thriller” starring some of my favorite actors (in addition to Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, and Marisa Tomei also appear). Having just gotten past the last presidential debate, this movie immediately put me on the defensive. It was like watching part of the current unfolding political drama, not a separate film for entertainment value. The line between reality and art blurred and I found myself wishing I had put the DVD back into the mailer and slipped it quietly into the mail without watching it.
The film itself isn’t great. It certainly isn’t Clooney’s strongest directorial effort (my vote goes to Good Night, and Good Luck), and despite the line-up of impressive actors, the script offers little in the way of character development, not to mention that nothing particularly thrilling or shocking happens along the way. Ultimately, the film depressed me. If I want to see dirty politicians at play, all I need to do is turn on my TV.
Post viewing, I kept coming back to the phrase, “Life imitates Art” (or for those of you that prefer, the complete phrase by Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”). Initially, I was amused. Have politicians taken notes from Hollywood on how they’re supposed to do their job? This makes sense. Anyone that’s worked in the industry (as I did for ten years) knows it is about the most cutthroat, heartless, who-you-know (or blow) land of “dreams” out there. Sure, there is the occasional sincere, hardworking individual who has a true love of cinema. But for the most part Hollywood is full of fame-whores, in front of and behind the camera.
But it was more than that. When I think of the phrase “Life imitates Art,” I tend to think of art considered beautiful by the beholder in some fashion. Where was the beauty in this film? Why did it strike all the wrong nerves?
The answers to these questions are complex, and at the end of the day, I wasn’t seeking complex in my escape. I was seeking distraction that didn’t require so much of me, the viewer. I wanted something easy. This film wasn’t it.
So during my election hangover, I opted to snuggle up and watch The Princess Bride. We all deserve a break.