Remember Sarah Palin? She was John McCain’s running mate during the 2008 presidential election. She was mocked extensively on Saturday Night Live (as they are wont to do), and her presence made politics feel even more like the reality show it had become. HBO and director Jay Roach collaborated to make a movie to memorialize that event, starring Julianne Moore as the controversial Palin, and Ed Harris as McCain. The film is called Game Change, and it chronicles the rise of Palin from Alaska Governor to worldwide political celebrity.
The first question everyone will be asking is: what bias does this film have? To answer that: it seems fairly neutral, though it’s definitely closer to a negative critique of Palin than a positive evaluation. The filmmakers do attempt to understand Palin, and even go so far as to give McCain almost zero faults in the matter—other than maybe impetuousness. The depiction of McCain seems watered-down, aside from the frequency of his “F” bombs. It’s almost like the McCain headquarters had a pass at the script before production. The whole film has a gloss of being overseen by the people it’s about
Politics aside, there’s something about it that makes it hard to buy as the exact story. It doesn’t entirely work as a film, but it’s nonetheless fascinating at times. The drama seems both absent and somehow exaggerated all at once. The matter of wrangling Palin into a conditioned candidate is inherently interesting, but the drama that’s squeezed out of that feels very trying.
Moore is fantastic as Palin–a tough role in that she has to seem like her without resembling Tina Fey’s immortal imitation. Roach, more inclined towards comedic fare, restrains himself here for a more straightforward approach to the material. It’s a bit flat as a result, since Roach’s directorial instincts are generic when he’s outside his comfort zone.
Game Change encapsulates the media frenzy of that period, very close to being a full-blown documentary with dramatized reenactments. Expectedly, it suffers from a this-happens-then-that-happens story, as it’s based on events still fresh in most viewers’ memory. Palin keeps surprising people, then letting them down, and then gives them hope again, and so on. She grows wearier of her guidance from the campaign managers, and decides to “go rogue”, meanwhile her campaign managers grow wearier of her inability to qualify as a Vice President, and try not to panic. This arc is tedious at times, but since it’s what happened it still works to keep the viewer interested.
Since “control” and “strategy” are the characters issues, the film does scratch the surface of a truly compelling concept, but it remains mostly buried under a need to say too much at once, and thus doesn’t say enough. As a document of a time, it’s a worthwhile view, but it’s mostly an introduction for future generations who don’t want to read about what happened. Those future generations, on the other hand, could very well see this movie as reason to investigate further. However, as a member of this current generation, I’d rather watch the documentary.