Game Change: It’s Not Just About Sarah Palin

After watching Game Change last night, I made the mistake of reading multiple reviews and commentaries about the HBO film. This is one movie everyone has an opinion about.

Because Game Change is based on a monumental event that only unfolded four years ago, the audience is incredibly invested in this movie. The result has been a very nasty battle between liberals and conservatives about the film’s accuracy and significance. For conservatives, it is another attack on the right by Hollywood’s liberal elites. For liberals, it is a cringeworthy reminder of how a hockey mom from Alaska became a voice in American politics. Both sides descend into finger-pointing, quick to point out what is wrong or right about Game Change.

These commentaries are mostly terrible and they only superficially dissect Game Change.

While Game Change is fairly decent, it is hardly 100 percent accurate. This is because Game Change is a movie. Absolute accuracy becomes less important. We already know what happened during the 2008 election, we watched many of the events play out on national television, live.

Instead, we should focus on the performances and how the story is told. Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woocy Harrelson, is the central character of the movie. Not Sarah Palin. The effect of Schmidt’s decisions are overwhelm the film. His face is constantly frozen in an “Oh shit” expression.

Julianne Moore delivers a fantastic performance as Palin. Beyond the striking physical resemblance, Moore transforms Palin into a sympathetic figure, even as the film’s more obvious criticisms against the former Governor come into play. One scene is when Palin becomes is almost on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her erratic behavior has nothing to do with the stress of being overwhelmed by the election but because Palin can’t function without her family around. (Meanwhile, John McCain is doing just fine without Cindy.) Later in the film, Palin’s transition from being frazzled to having a cutthroat “my way or else” attitude comes out of no where. (The script missed a scene or two there.)

Despite all of this, the film is not even about Sarah Palin at all. Yes, the many conflicts between campaign staff an Palin define the film’s core dramatic material. But Game Change is really about the decision to make Palin the vice presidential candidate in the first place and the repercussions of a misguided choice. On the 2008 election, on the Republican Party, and especially on American political discourse right now.

Game Change is a reminder that Palin’s emergence on the national stage was seriously a “WTF?” moment. It is a reminder that we are still subjected to Palin’s presence everywhere, from reality shows to political commentary programs. (For the record, I disagree with Palin but I don’t see her as overly incompetent. She got where she is today for some reason. I know this, because I read her book. It took being unprepared for a national election to ruin whatever real potential she had. But I choose to ignore Palin and that has worked out fine for me. But I digress.)

Above all, Game Change is a reminder that 2008 was just the beginning of this terribly frustrating mess we’re in the middle of now. Civil political discourse is non-existent these days and party lines are more combative than ever before.

This brings me back to what I realized as I read more and more commentaries about Game Change. The most disgusting aspect of Game Change has been the reactions to this movie. It was inevitable that conservative and liberals would skewer Game Change and skewer each other in the process. These kinds of responses destroyed whatever entertainment value can be found in Game Change and they get us no where. They are a reminder that political discourse has been completely ruined by the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and anonymity that allows people to broadcast whatever they want on the Internet.

Most of all, the reaction to Game Change makes me dread the upcoming months in this presidential election. If there was a way for me to completely ignore politics until November, I would. I’m already disgusted just thinking about what is to come.

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