Movie Review: ‘The Campaign’ dishes out social critique, belly laughs

Katie Gile

The Campaign (2012)

By all accounts, walking into The Campaign, I was ready for a brainless few hours of physical humor and loud laughs. The casting of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, the brash, goofy humor associated with the duo and the film’s overall scale led me to expect an over-the-top political comedy.

Though entirely goofy and a riotous good time, the film was in no way brainless. The scary thing was the fact that what should be over-the-top was barely an exaggeration of reality. That’s not to say it wasn’t a gut-busting, over-the-top comedy, but that that the “top” itself is higher than it once was.

Set in a very familiar political climate where flash passes as substance, the movie starts as Ferrell’s long-term North Carolina Congressman Cam Brady looks to sail into another term unopposed. As he campaigns in a multitude of different venues, he tells each interest group what they want to hear. Then, along comes awkward turtle and black sheep Marty Huggins, played with delicious weirdness by Galifianakis, who opposes Brady’s reign and runs for office himself.

So, the race begins, and it’s a race filled with baby-kissing, a struggle for the wittiest rhetoric and a fight to have the last word.

As a movie, it’s brilliant in so many ways.

Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell put their comedic chops to the test, providing a screenplay with much more going for it than what the trailer might suggest. From the ridiculous “Anchorman”-style jokes to simple, subtle moments of awkward brilliance, The Campaign runs the gamut with impeccable style.

The Campaign offers the best kind of comedy: the kind with a message. It’s hardly a coincidence that the film’s release coincides with election time, when airwaves are overwhelmed with political advertisement. In a world where poll results leave pugs out in the rain in favor of the “more American” golden retrievers, and muckraking is favored over platform-promotion, the film exposes the farcical, show-business nature of politics.

Henchy and Harwell keep the story grounded in reality with rational characters to which we can relate. This  allows us to feel a part of the story and see the absurd reality within the story.

The union of two comedic geniuses, one who’s mastered the “extremely loud and incredibly close” technique and the other, whose unassumingly brilliant take on comedy is both disarming and charming, makes this film a comedic dynamo with substance to spare.

Ferrell is in top-form, putting his absurd style in the capable hands of the screenwriters and of director Jay Roach. As a result, his performance is unexpectedly nuanced and completely flawless.

Galifianakis is a delightful screen partner to Ferrell, with a disarming vulnerability underpinned with sharp wit and fire. His very fresh, well-grounded comedic style is well-suited to a story that presents both reality and fantasy.

Its delightful performances and the subtle combination of fantasy and reality make this film a surprisingly poignant piece of art. Give it a watch before you vote this year.