November 21, 2009

Primary Colors

Based on the book by Anonymous, Primary Colors (1998) is a roman a clef of the Clintons during their 1992 Whitehouse bid. John Travolta plays Southern governor Jack Stanton, Emma Thompson, his wife, Susan. Travolta dons the Bill Clinton-esque accent and that bullshit twinkle in his eye fairly well, but the supporting cast really makes this film come to life. Emma Thompson is superb--not just in concealing her English accent, but in embodying the aura of Susan Stanton (Hillary Clinton): cold enough to survive the nastiness of politics and the onslaught of scandals, smart enough to channel her ideas through her husband (who's better at connecting with the voters on an emotional level than on an intellectual one). In Short, Primary Colors offers a richly conceived glimpse at (and under) our political landscape. Sure, things have changed since 1992 particularly because of technology, but I think Primary Colors taps into a somewhat universal truth about the necessary cynicism one must have when approaching the subject of politics and politicians. Kathy Bates gives the most poignant--and frequently hilarious--performance as one of the Stantons' campaign advisers, who realizes--for the second time in her career--that ideals are lost in the political spectrum where appearances and behind-the- scenes deals carry more weight. While I was left feeling that this film was a bit of a love note to the Clintons (in spite of its frequently unflattering portrayals of them), I think it also captured the seeming hopelessness of politicians. People are constantly looking for someone to put their hope in, and if you can get that, you can do anything. ½


Ben Pearson said...

Good stuff. I've never seen this movie, but I just added it to my queue list. I've got like 100 flicks in there right now so it'll be awhile before I get to it, but the fact that you taught me a new phrase (roman a clef) guarantees that I'll see this movie sometime in my life.

pannedreview said...

I *think* I'd heard the term before but I didn't remember what it meant and I certainly hadn't used it before in writing or in conversation.