The small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin has become ground zero for America’s political circus when the video of a retired Marine Colonel (Chris Cooper) goes viral. The video shows the Colonel standing up for the town’s undocumented workers. Top Democratic strategist Gary (Steve Carell) is made aware of the video and seizes the opportunity to win back America’s heartland for the Democrats. What better person for the Dems to rally behind, a gun totin’, camo wearing liberal. Gary flies to meet the Colonel to convince him to run for mayor. Not to be outdone, his nemesis Faith, played by Rose Byrne with a wonderfully playful zeal, with her snappy business outfits and straight blonde hair, looking like she was pulled right out of a Fox News lineup.
The film goes as you would expect. Each party uses every trick in the book to give their candidate an edge, which eventually engulfs the town in the media spotlight. Director and screenwriter Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) goes to great length to show the similarities in which each side fights. What began as a race for mayor has become something completely unrecognizable. The fight is now about numbers and math, the citizens are no longer people, but a metric to be plugged into their perspective algorithms.
The film picks up steam as the election looms and the media frenzy comes to a head leading to massive amounts of money flowing into the small town. The real story is in examining where this money comes from, and who it benefits. There is something systemically wrong with the outpouring of these funds with little to no oversight, leading to corrupted outcomes. As the attention comes, the media gets the money shots of a quaint little town full of cows and boarded up windows, a “real” peek into the lives of these people. But what happens when the election is over? Where does all that cash go? It is that question, and the satirical take down of both parties and their perspective news organizations that give this comedy a healthy dose of reality.
The cast is what really shines and brings the film together. Carell and Byrne have such a fun and playful rivalry that is quite delightful to watch. Chris Cooper, Topher Grace, Natasha Lyonne, and Mackenzie Davis round out the rest of the main cast. Each of them bringing a little extra with them, even if they don’t have as much screen time. A few scenes with Gary and a local named Dot had me rolling. The humanity of the people living in this small town, in contrast with the calculating and cold-blooded actions of the politicians show the disconnect between people and politics. Throw in the 24-hour news cycle and you have the beginnings of a left vs. right free for all where the only outcome that matters is winning. There is no incentive to work together to build something better. Within that structure is a built in animosity where hate can thrive.
Stewart is taking shots at both parties, neither being shown in the best light. Through all the absurdities of politics and elections this shows a refreshing take that highlights the actual citizens in this small town and the power that they have. A power that can be held by anyone willing to take a closer look and ask questions.
4 out of 5