Bud is an alcoholic single father who finds himself in the middle of the recent presidential election, his one vote needed to break a tie to decide New Mexico’s electoral votes.
To say that Swing Vote pushes its ideas to the point of hitting you over the head with them is an understatement. I mean, there is a point where Bud (Costner), an alcoholic father, races out of a bar and hits his head on a sign that says “VOTE TODAY.” The entire movie makes me feel like the filmmakers are hitting me over the head over and over again with the idea that every vote counts and I should get out there and vote.
Bud is a father who would rather write a note to keep his daughter from having to go to school than get out of bed and act like a man. He has racked up 31 sick days over the year at his own job and after the latest incident, where he is caught drinking at work, is let go from his job. On the other end of the spectrum is his daughter Molly, a very intelligent young girl who alternates between dreams of being a veterinarian or Chairman of the Fed. On the day of the current election, Bud gets fired and spends the rest of the day getting drunk at a bar while his daughter is showcased on television giving a speech she wrote about voting.
Because Bud is busy getting drunk, he fails to go and vote despite promising his daughter he would. You know Bud is a jerk because we get a close-up of his daughter sitting on a bench crying at the voting polls. Subtlety, thy name is not Joshua Michael Stern. Molly then attempts to sneak in and vote for him, but a power outage interrupts her after she inserts the voter card into a machine. She then leaves and finds Bud passed out drunk in his truck and drives him home.
The election comes down to the wire. The rules state the electoral votes will go to whichever candidate gets the most popular votes, and it ends up a tie. Thanks to his daughter trying to vote for him, Bud’s one uncounted vote becomes the tiebreaker. The state’s five electoral votes is all that is needed to determine the next president, so the candidates come to town to try to sway him to vote for them. The movie continues to slam its ideas over our heads as it actually mentions Florida deciding the 2000 presidential election.
The two political groups provide the most fun in the entire movie. Kelsey Grammer plays the incumbent, a man who seems more concerned with how white his teeth are compared to JFK and what he can do to earn himself a place in history (find a cure for cancer). Dennis Hopper is the challenger, a man whose platform includes diversifying his party’s ethnicity. More interesting are their aids. Nathan Lane plays the aid for Hopper’s challenger while Stanley Tucci is the aid for the incumbent. Watching these two fabulous actors play off each other makes this movie more interesting than it ever had any right to be.
Kevin Costner stated he was excited to be playing against type, but his character is very similar to his role in Tin Cup. I feel he is a bit out of his comfort zone here and never seems realistic as the simple minded drunk hillbilly. Costner is a great actor, one of the most charismatic of our time, but really fails to capture my attention in this role. However, Madeline Carroll is fantastic in the role of Molly. There is a scene between her and Stanley Tucci on Air Force One that is very funny to watch, with the two playing off each other with perfect comic timing. There is also a scene between her and Nathan Lane that is just as good. The best scenes in the movie don’t even involve the star, and the supporting actors steal the show.
The movie takes a solid turn in the second half when everyone proves to be dishonest and devious. Even Molly, who was the strongest believer in the way the nation runs at the beginning of the film, starts to become disenfranchised when she is witness to the political candidate’s insincerity. While the movie’s original basis focused around the fact that one man’s vote counts, the movie’s change to themes of hypocrisy and the disenfranchised creates a better story and the movie improves thanks to it.
At the end of the day, the movie is a solid examination of a man who is the worst type of individual. He is a man who doesn’t know anything about the issues but is expected to make the most important decision in America anyway. Of course, in the name of subtlety, the director tells us this with an editorial by Bill Maher who states Bud is making a laughing stock out of America. I don’t know if this is a criticism about political candidates selling their souls to get into office or the common man not being knowledgeable on the issues at stake.
Both candidates seem to be good people and their campaign leaders appear to be the bad guys. Then we see the campaign leaders are only doing what they do because of good intentions as well. I think the writers were afraid to paint anyone as the bad guy. Of course, the point may be that no one is a bad guy and there is good in everyone, but I really found it hard to get past the heavy handed nature of the film. The moment Molly found her birth mother and realized, no matter how bad her dad seems, it could have been worse was the icing on this melodramatic cake. The movie is good, but I feel a subtler approach could have produced something great.
Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Joshua Michael Stern and Writer Jason Richman – The two carry on a continuous conversation about both the making of the movie as well as the real world policies surrounding the ideas in the script. It is a nice, easy to listen to track by both men.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (10:52) – You can watch the scenes with or without director’s commentary. The first scene was expendable but the second was a scene with Nathan Lane and Stanley Tucci and, since they never shared a single scene in the movie, it was nice to see it here – and it was funny. The last two scenes were there to develop the relationship between Bud and his romantic interest in the film, news reporter Kate.
Inside the Campaign: The Politics of Production (12:59) – This is a short, easy making of feature that talks to most of the cast and filmmakers. Interesting trivia: Kevin Costner is the one who chose both Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper to be the candidates. It is short but gives a bit of good information.
“Hey Man What About You?” Performed by Modern West (04:15) – This is Kevin Costner’s country band. The song is pretty good if you like country music.