The Campaign Review By Adam
When a film is trying to fit squarely into a genre you have to judge how well it achieves its genre-specific aspirations: there is no point comparing Step-Brothers to The Social Network, even on a technical level, as these films have very different goals. Yet a critic may (validly) give both films five stars. I think it is more reasonable to ask: does a horror film scare? Does a thriller thrill? With this line of questioning I have to state that The Campaign is a complete success as I almost wet my pants watching it. Is it a perfect film? Does every joke work? Fuck no. But The Campaign features the highest hit to miss ratio of belly laughs in any recent ‘adult’ comedy.
The Campaign follows Cam Brady (Will Ferrell), a boorish, womanising piece of shit who also happens to be North Carolina’s congressman. The incompetent Brady has kept his position for years, simply because he has never been challenged. Brady’s unopposed streak comes to an end when local oddball Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) enters the political race. But is Marty a genuine man for the people or is he a puppet for nefarious big business? Both men want to do good, but the unethical nature of dirty politics, inflated egos and the influence of questionable financial supporters finds both of them endangering all that they hold dear. Both Cam and Marty have to decide: is it more important to be a good man or to tarnish your opponent?
The Campaign is an equal split of smart and stupid. Some people may be off-put by the wild detours into vulgarity, but I relished it. This film has very few comedic scruples and a thick vein of mean spiritedness runs through it – for me, these are good things. For every smart political jibe in The Campaign there is a blatant dick joke. This commitment to shock kept me on my toes throughout (and often made me laugh out loud). Being crass for the sake of it can be disastrous (look at some of the other posts on this site for proof), but The Campaign is rarely in danger as its jokes are actually funny. It takes a little while to warm up, but I found at least a dozen gags in this film worthy of an honest-to-god belly laugh.
Normally, when two heavyweight comedians combine forces it means that both of their careers are on the wane (anyone remember Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence’s Life? Didn’t think so). But this is not the case with The Campaign. Ferrell and Galifianakis are having obvious fun playing off each other, and luckily this fun extends to the audience. Both men are playing rampant caricatures — Galifianakis’s Marty is an effeminate buffoon who wears Christmas sweaters all year long and Ferrell’s Brady is a sex-crazed version of his president Bush impersonation — and when they collide it is hilarious. Keeping with this film’s smart/dumb tone, their debates are moronic, satirical wonders and their trash talking isn’t far removed from the school yard – one line where Brady claims to have put ‘a load’ in Huggins’s mother made me lose my shit.
I am an unapologetic Will Ferrell fan. His involvement in a film — no matter how fleeting — is normally enough to get me through the door. I understand that some people might despise his hysterical tactics, but I can think of few comedians that can sprout truly stupid lines and keep a dead-eyed stare like Ferrell. His work here is not revolutionary, but it is unshackled. Ferrell can be funny under PG-rating constraints, but when you give him a free pass (i.e. Step-Brothers) he can be riotous, and The Campaign lets Ferrell run wild. He is also scarily adept at playing the placating politician. After leaving a salacious message on a Christian family’s voicemail, he publicly retorts: ‘1% of my phone calls have been sexual in nature, that’s a pretty good record’.
Galifianakis is the (relatively) new kid on the block. He’s had a meteoric rise since 2009’s Hangover, but has done little to show his diversity as a performer. But hey, if what you’re doing works, why change it? Marty Huggins plays to Galifianakis’s strengths: he is quirky, awkward and, ultimately, sympathetic. While these are traits that could be used to describe The Hangover ‘s Alan Garner, this is a vastly different performance. Alan was an idiot savant, Marty is just an idiot. Galifianakis has a gentle, trusting nature in this film and some of the funniest scenes are watching his life be redesigned by his financial supporters (his beloved pugs are banished from the house, replaced by bandana-wearing labradors).
This film has a spectacular supporting cast: John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd and Brian Cox are great as the unethical troupe leading Marty astray. Jason Sudeikis manages to suppress his douche-bag shtick and gives a likeable performance as the advisor trying to subdue Brady’s impulses. But the real surprise here is Dylan McDermott – he is electrifying as Marty’s ultra-intense advisor Tim Wattley. Wattley is the best that money can buy, and just may or may not be a wanted war criminal.
Director Jay Roach is a fitting helmer for this film as he has both comedy (Austin Powers) and political (Recount) films under his belt. While he has a proven comedy record, Roach has never made a film this crass or manic. I would attribute this change of pace to his writing collaborators Adam McKay (Step-Brothers) and Chris Henchy (The Other Guys). As proven in the Austin Powers series, Roach can pull off physical comedy, and a few of this film’s wilder moments are truly visually inventive (e.g. Brady tripping on snake venom and a DUI chase gone wrong). Roach keeps this film moving along at a quick pace and never lingers on one story thread for too long. Its 85 minute runtime goes past in a breeze.
One thing that I love about this film is that none of the best moments were spoiled in the trailers. In a smart move, the filmmakers have changed the lines or sequences from the trailer so that the jokes are not stale. This is a great precedent and I’d love for more films (Hello, Ted) to follow its lead.
Ultimately, you will want to see this film based on your appreciation of the leads. Seeing a shit Will Ferrell comedy is a daunting task, so it pleases me to state that this is the funniest thing he has been in for a while (Eastbound and Down notwithstanding).