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Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Swing Vote"

Since the subject of an election in a farcical political comedy isn't likely to bring the mainstream through the gates in droves, current action thrillers have nothing to worry about at the boxoffice from this civics lesson. If you're into politics and/or adult themes with a light touch, Kevin Costner and company has something to stir your mind. For some, it might even be worth the drive.

Not the least of the film's strong points is the everyman slacker quality Kevin Costner's got down pat and a dramatic structure that you see in every sports movie with the inevitable win at the end when you thought all was lost. In setting up his trash-talking beer-swiller with a daughter and trailer home, he leaves the role a lot of room to grow into something worth his daughter's adoration. True, there's a problem in how it's carried out, but we'll get to that.

The heart of the film (as opposed to its premise) is the father-daughter relationship that few could fail to respond to with warm laughs and a comfort-zone recognition of satire on failed marriages and young daughters as fill-in caretakers of a lowbrow dad. One of daughter Molly's (Madeline Carroll, "Resident Evil: Extinction") ongoing tasks are getting dad Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) out of bed and off to work with a good breakfast that she's prepared.

This is a very precocious 12-year old with a keen mind and an abiding devotion, fully aware of all of dad's stratagems to stay in bed and his generally decrepit logic. He may try to game his daughter but she's up on all his tricks. Long-gone mom (Mare Winningham) left them over a preference for drugs and a never-to-be musical career. Neither parent explains the DNA that produced this bright overachiever.

Bud, if he's anything, is an affable, studiously unpretentious guy who checks eggs on a local company production line when he's not goofing off and grabbing a beer on his breaks. The hallmark of this guy is his laissez faire approach to everything outside his trailer walls. You could call him chronically uninvolved--all the more of a challenge for a major makeover.

The event that sets the improbable into motion takes place on election day. Playing on the extremely close outcomes of political races in recent years, this one, between republican President Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and democrat contender Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) comes in as an actual, undisputed tie--except for one vote that was not counted because of a machine glitch. Well, it actually was an electrical cord being pulled out at a crucial moment by a cleaning woman in the last minute at the local polling venue. This prevented Molly's vote from being counted.

Did I say Molly? Well, you can't have expected Bud to do his duty, so Molly, as always, tried filling-in for him and, as a result, Bud is called upon, in a political fantasy, to recast "his" uncounted vote. Which brings him to national attention, press corp inundation and the candidates themselves vying to curry his favor with appeals and gifts to his personal interests.

Great care is taken to maintain political equality, favoring neither side. This is commercial moviemaking, after all, and its release in the real election season of 2008 can't be aimed at taking a position or intimating a party preference. No one know who Molly would have voted for nor which way Bud is leaning when he finally bones up on politics for the first time in his life.

While a feisty 12-year old stealing a movie with an abundance of talent and poise isn't new, Madeline Carroll makes off with a performance equal to the best of them. It's one that fully justifies seeing a film with more faults than votes.

One of them is the one-note nature of Costner's character. A simple, self-absorbed man, to be sure, but some uncreated coloration to him, and to the guidance of his little genius loving daughter, was needed to sustain the 2 hour length. Costner is, however, inspired and fairly convincing in the role, showing the fun he had with it in the thoroughness of his portrayal.

Grammer and Hopper and, for that matter, their campaign managers Martin Fox (Stanley Tucci for the former) and Art Crumb (Nathan lane for the latter) are cutouts, and not much is asked of them, which they give with as much gusto as they can manage to generate. In a Costner film, typically developed by him and, in this case, fully financed and husbanded by him as well, secondary characters can get lost in the carpet dust (even if it's on Air Force One).

Order it now!
The Blu-ray DVD
  • Inside the campaign: The Politics of Production
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (with optional director's commentary) in HD on Blu-ray
  • Audio Commentary by director and his co-writer
    The Soundtrack

  • Being the project-master behind director/co-writer Joshua Michael Stern and screenwriter Jason Richman, it is a Costner flick and, I have to say, that's worth something. With many a miss in his career, it's one he has a right to be proud of (and others envious of) for always pushing the envelope in order to have a say with interesting themes and exquisitely timed creativity. But, still, the buck stops mostly with him when his participation is so dominant, so my biggest carp goes to his mailbox. The development arc for his character that he fails to provide with a glimmer of serious potential throughout, turns suddenly--for the big ending--into another kind of citizen. I hope that's not a spoiler--if it is, I apologize.

    Maybe I can make amends by saying that, despite even more faults than I've mentioned, I wouldn't have missed this film for anything, including "Iron Man." And that's because freely-swearing goofball Bud Johnson is such a funny, undemanding guy; and his daughter such a pre-teen chip of gold. Whatever ticket they're running on... I swing their way.

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                                          ~~  Jules Brenner  

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