Politics of 2012 are already ridiculous, from Newt Gingrich’s moon base to Mitt Romney’s animal abuse to Rick Santorum’s general awfulness. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, give us hilarious takes on campaign speeches and Super PACs for real politicians. In The Campaign, Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis bring us two fictional politicians we can get behind.
Ferrell is Cam Brady, a long-time congressman running unopposed in North Carolina. Cam is a puppet for the Motch brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) a duo of wealthy CEOs who want a politician in their pocket. After a major public blunder, the brothers decide they need to invest their substantial cash in another candidate, so they scout and recruit Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a kindhearted tourism director. Marty is thrilled by the idea of making a difference in the town he loves so much, so he gleefully accepts his new opportunity and all that comes with it, including a hardened campaign manager played by Dylan McDermott.
The candidates begin an epic battle to win voters, utilizing all the political strategies of real-life politicians including pandering, phony religious devotion and sometimes flat out lying. They shake hands and kiss babies, which results in an infant accidentally getting punched in the face, and they try to connect with the people in hopes of winning the coveted seat. Cam resorts to dirty tactics and negative ads, a disappointment to his campaign manager (Jason Sudeikis), and even seduces Marty’s wife in an attempt to infiltrate Marty’s entire world. Marty starts to fight back, resorting to less-than-admirable tactics of his own as the guys duke it out. Soon, the pressures of campaigning have Marty questioning the entire political process and Cam realizing that there’s more to politics than winning.
Ferrell and Galifianakis are a comedic dream team. Each has an unmatched ability to inhabit a character and to make even the most ridiculous premise funny. Ferrell borrows a little from his classic portrayal of former President George W. Bush and Galifiankis becomes his “twin brother” Seth, as seen in his stand up DVD, Live at the Purple Onion. They have such a natural flow with each other that it makes their interactions feel real, even when the two candidates get into a physical altercation or exchange trash talk before a debate.
It would be easy for The Campaign to feel like an extended SNL sketch, but it manages to keep the audience laughing for the full 85 minutes thanks mostly to Ferrell and Galifianakis’ delivery. After watching one of Marty’s campaign videos in which he secretly turns Cam’s son against him, Cam vows to sleep with Marty’s wife on tap as revenge. His campaign manager vehemently disagrees with this tactic and the fight between Ferrell and Sudeikis is fantastic. In another scene, Marty sits down at the dinner table with his family to discuss any secrets that might be uncovered now that they are in the spotlight. His interactions with his wife (Sarah Baker) and children (Grant Goodman and Kya Haywood) are incredibly funny because of his fully-committed delivery. An argument between Marty and his father (Brian Cox) results in Marty asking if his dad is mad at him because he “wore Crocs to Mom’s funeral.” These lines feel improvised in the best possible way, like they were hand-crafted by comedy artisans.
While the film is political, it could be just as enjoyable in a non-election year. The public is just more aware of the campaign circus right now, which makes it extra relevant and extra funny. Even though Cam is despicable and Marty is gullible, we end up loving both of them in the end, which is one of the only real deviations from the reality of American politics.