By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 10, 2012 — Let’s try and set the record straight on this HBO Sarah Palin movie called “Game Change,” which you’ve no doubt been reading about lately.
TV critics are hailing the movie, in which Julianne Moore plays Palin, in much the same way that they reacted to a previous HBO movie about another presidential campaign — the 2008 made-for-TV movie called “Recount” about the Bush-Gore Florida debacle of 2000. Both movies were written by Danny Strong and directed by Jay Roach. Then, as now, the critics are enthusiastic about “Game Change” and, in particular, Moore’s performance.
Of course, any TV movie that purports to portray Sarah Palin will come to TV laden with controversy. And that rule of thumb certainly applies to “Game Change,” which premieres on HBO on Saturday night (March 10) at 9/8c.
As with any TV dramatization adapted from real events (or, as in this case, a non-fiction book about real events), your enjoyment of “Game Change” might depend on whether or not you accept its portrayal of Sarah Palin. And this movie’s depiction of Palin is downright brutal.
It’s the Sarah Palin of summer and fall 2008, when she skyrocketed to instant fame as John McCain’s surprise pick to join his ticket as the Republican candidate for vice president. The movie focuses primarily on three characters — McCain (played by Ed Harris), Palin, and McCain campaign advisor Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson with his usual intensity).
In the movie, which I watched the other day on a preview DVD provided by HBO, Harris puts his own usual intensity on hold to portray McCain as an F-word spewing candidate who seems to prefer that his staff do most of the heavy lifting in the management of his own presidential campaign.
Harris doesn’t really try for out-and-out mimickry in his portrayal of McCain, but that wasn’t the case with Moore. She nails Palin in all the crucial areas — her voice, her body language, her hair, makeup and wardrobe. Moore’s portrayal of Palin is the great performance of this movie, and the primary reason to watch it in the first place. She’s almost certain to be nominated for an Emmy and she’ll probably win it.
Her transformation into Palin was so complete that I couldn’t help but think of Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” That was a richer role, but the two challenges were essentially the same: How to become another person so completely that you forget about the actress. Among many great moments in “Game Change,” one of our favorites was when Moore, costumed as Palin, watched Tina Fey on “Saturday Night Live” playing Palin. It is a great moment in television.
Having said all that, the portrayal is savage. This movie posits that Palin the candidate was an uneducated, inarticulate, head-strong egomaniac who knew next to nothing about history, geography, international relations or domestic affairs. Moreover, according to the movie, when the pressures of running for national office mounted, she caved emotionally. Basically, the movie depicts Palin as a blithering idiot who couldn’t take the heat.
Is the portrayal true? Well, it is based on a book – “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — and it’s the kind of book you assume is factual.
The book was about the Democratic and Republican campaigns that ended with Barack Obama’s victory — and all the people involved in the many dramas that took place that year. And yet, the movie focuses only on the Palin/McCain drama.
“That book had several movies in it,” says executive producer Gary Goetzman in a video HBO produced to promote the movie. “So we picked a piece of the book to make this movie.” You can interpret that statement in any of two ways (or possibly more): (1) For the sake of producing a tightly focused two-hour telemovie, the producers had to pick one of the book’s many stories and restrict the movie to telling that tale, or (2) the producers have it in for Palin. I suspect there’s more to item (1) than item (2) here, but just the same, both interpretations are probably valid.
Sarah Palin herself has said recently that she hasn’t seen the movie and doesn’t plan on watching it (though I expect she won’t be able to resist giving it at least a wee peek Saturday night, assuming she subscribes to HBO).
Love it or hate it, this movie is too fascinating to dismiss, or miss.
Remember when . . . Sarah Palin became a reality TV star on TLC? I loved writing about “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” so much that I made 18 columns out of it. Relive the experience HERE, with all 18 of those columns collected in one special place — only on TVHowl.com.
Contact Adam Buckman: email@example.com