Two Female Extremes in American Political Drama

I watched two movies last week which show two very different sides of women in US politics, Game Change and The Contender.

Julianne Moore stars as Sarah Palin in Game Change (2012), an HBO movie directed by Jay Roach. The movie is set during the 2008 Presidential election campaign when Palin was appointed as Republican Senator John McCain’s running mate. McCain’s advisors are worried about Obama’s growing celebrity status and so they look for a ‘game change’, someone with equal charisma who will gain them media attention and attract both women and conservative voters. Palin is deemed to be the perfect candidate and so she is appointed after the briefest of vetting procedures.

To everyone’s horror it quickly becomes apparent that Palin is the female equivalent of Dan Quayle. In one scene she is asked about the ‘special relationship’ the US has with the UK and she responds referencing the Queen. Her advisor is perplexed and tells her that the Queen is not the head of government in England, she’s the head of state. Sarah asks, ‘Well, then who’s the head of government?’, apparently totally unaware of the existence of the Prime Minister. According to the film, she also had no idea that North Korea and South Korea are different countries.

Moore’s physical portrayal is even more accurate than Tina Fey’s Saturday Night Live send-up (which is a huge feat), and it’s a testament to her talent that Moore makes us empathise with Palin even as we laugh at her flaws. The cast also includes great performances by Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris and Sarah Paulson. Game Change is funny because it’s true, and that’s kinda terrifying.



And from the ridiculous to the sublime. Joan Allen stars as Laine Hanson in The Contender, released in 2000 and directed by Rod Lurie. U.S. President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) must select a new Vice President following the sudden death of the current VP. Evans decides that he will break the glass ceiling and nominates a woman, Senator Laine Hanson, for the job.

Hanson’s views on abortion are damned as she is pro-choice, her sexual history is raked over, she is asked if she plans to have more children during her presidency, questions a man would never be asked. She is not questioned on foreign policy, the DOW Jones or matters of national security. Through all of this muck raking Hanson maintains a dignified silence and insists that she will not answer questions relating to her private life as they are not relevant to her ability to do the job.

Joan Allen, a very gifted actress, was nominated for an Academy Award for her brilliant performance. The rest of the stellar cast include Gary Oldman, Sam Elliott, Wiliam Petersen and Christian Slater. The Contender cleverly shows how a scenario like this could play out in reality, but of course reality denies us the uplifting Hollywood ending.



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