By Joan Ellis
Game Change is a good movie about a controversial subject. When the Republicans found themselves behind in the 2008 presidential campaign, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) convinced John McCain (Ed Harris) and his staff that only a stunning surprise for the vice presidential nomination could save the election. After pulling Sarah Palin’s (Julianne Moore) biographical facts off the internet, Schmidt flew to Alaska to interview her. He tried to prepare Palin for the change that would engulf her the minute her nomination was announced. He would later admit with regret that he had asked few questions about policy though he did establish that she was pro-life with no exceptions for rape or incest.
Is the movie a Palin hatchet job? By no means. The Republicans were in trouble before she was chosen. She wows the convention when she accepts the nomination. The public is fascinated; the crowds grow; the polls rise. Men love her. The filmmakers have made it clear that she is both tough and courageous in unfamiliar waters. Surrounded by her entire family, she steps from a small Alaska town onto the national stage with little notice. Her love for her children is clear. A son in Iraq, a special needs newborn, a 7 year-old, a 14 year-old, a respectful husband, and a pregnant 17 year-old with boyfriend – “Thank you, Levi, for cutting your mullet.”
Although we may understand the pressures playing on her, nothing can save Sarah Palin from her own ignorance. This is a smart woman who has neither a grasp of nor an interest in the national or global picture. She simply has no frame of reference into which she can fit the “gotcha” questions that McCain’s staff fires at her in preparation for the upcoming debate with Joe Biden. Unable to absorb relevant policy information, Palin memorizes 25 questions and answers.
After the fatal Katie Couric interview, Palin’s bravery morphs into arrogance. She tells Schmidt she is carrying the campaign single-handedly – “They’re coming to see me!” She is absolutely right. She has become a celebrity. There are meltdowns, rages, and irrational outbursts, though at this point we in the audience are far madder at Schmidt for picking her than at Palin who had no inkling of what would follow exposure of her woefully inadequate knowledge bank. Furious, Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson), head of the prep team, finally lashes out at Schmidt, “You didn’t grill her because you wanted it to work!”
The acting? Julianne Moore captures Palin’s expressions, attitudes, and physical being with uncanny accuracy. Woody Harrelson is terrific as the beleaguered Steve Schmidt, and Ed Harris is particularly effective in conveying McCain’s essential decency and grace in his loss.
Sarah Palin is a smart, tough competitor who can use her natural talents to rise to the top of any field – except one. There is no room in the line of succession to the presidency for a candidate who has not one iota of interest in world affairs.