Eight years ago Swing
Vote would have felt like science fiction. This was before Gore
vs. Bush - where an entire Presidential election was decided by the Supreme
Court because it was supposedly too close to call.
So now, the idea of a
Presidential election being decided by one man seems not only possible, it
somehow seems logical. It is also a brilliant story idea - one which
Swing Vote does not fully take advantage of.
Don't get me wrong,
Swing Vote is a pleasant diversion, a fun and mostly involving comedy.
However, with a premise like this, it could - and should - have been so much
Kevin Costner plays Bud, a
shiftless, lazy, redneck alcoholic. The only thing he has really going
for him - though of course he does not totally realize it until too late -
is a smart, thoughtful, sensitive, compassionate 12-year-old daughter, Molly
(Madeline Carroll). In fact, their roles have changed so that she's
essentially the parent since Bud's addict ex (Mare Winningham) left town.
She makes the meals, wakes him up, makes sure he goes to work, tries to keep
him relatively sober.
When her social studies
teacher convinces her of the importance of voting, she registers for Bud and
makes him promise to meet her at the polling place on election day. He
gets fired and gets drunk - and lets her down yet again. The girl
tries to vote for him and when a fluke error makes it look like the vote
wasn't accepted, Bud becomes responsible for the vote which will decide the
future of the free world.
Bud is thrown into a media
circus. Reporters are lurking everywhere, the press is camped outside
his camper, and both candidates and their advisers head down to his tiny
town to woo him.
Bud is rather overwhelmed
by the attention but learns to like his short-lived notoriety. Still,
it starts to weigh on him that perhaps he isn't qualified to make such a
Of course, it is hard to
totally feel sorry for the guy. Even after he realizes the joke he has
become and the fact that with his vote he has a huge responsibility to the
world, he generally refuses to change. He can't be bothered to even
look into the controversial policies that he is being mocked for not
understanding until at the very, very last minute. Hell, if not for
his daughter constantly waking him, he probably wouldn't even get out of bed
in the morning.
Still as he gets deeper and
deeper into the dilemma, Swing Vote kind of takes the coward's way
Unfortunately, to a large extent, Swing Vote is guilty of the same
crime which it accuses the politicians of committing - it is trying so hard
to be all things to all people that it plays the middle and will not take
any hard stands on the important issues which may alienate some of the
viewers. Vital issues of modern life are dismissed, oversimplified or
parties are shown to be cynical, pandering, win-at-all cost hypocrites.
This leads to a bunch of fake commercials where the candidates go against
their key principles to win this one vote: the Democrat comes out as
Pro-Life and anti-immigration, the Republican becomes environmentally
friendly and pro-gay marriage.
The Republican incumbents (played by Kelsey Grammar as the Pres and Stanley Tucci as his top adviser) come out looking a tiny bit better, but both sides
have to do some repulsive things. Even that slight bias apparently
came about in the editing room; legendary actor Dennis Hopper, who plays the
Democratic challenger, has acknowledged that he was unhappy with the final
cut because way too much of his character's motivation and actions ended
getting left out.
instead of lecturing the leaders on their acts - the big finale has Bud
lecturing them on his mistakes and how he is going to try to be a
better person. While that is nice and all, after the media firestorm
settles down that will only effect two people - Bud and his daughter.
It sort of lets the air out the tires in a still surprisingly moving scene
where Bud uses a Presidential debate to force the politicians who have spent
so much time in rarified air to hear letters from the common folk which
address the specific problems of the people.
course... in keeping with the film's fear of alienating their personal base,
the audience... the movie fades to black as he heads into the voting booth,
so we never know who he voted for (though we can take an educated guess --
I do like
Swing Vote. I just wish if it was going to tread on such
incendiary ground, it could have taken more of a stand. Even Bud
realizes - eventually - that sometimes you do have to take a stand in life.
Jay S. Jacobs
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 14, 2009.