Directed by: Joshua Michael Stern
Premise: Bud (Kevin Costner), an unemployed slacker, finds himself in a position to choose the next President of the United States when a voting machine snafu lets him cast the final ballot.
What Works: Swing Vote is part of a subgenre of satire that takes an idea that is just barely plausible and plays it out for laughs and for rhetoric, often including recognizable figures of the talking head television circuit like Larry King and Chris Matthews playing themselves for added realism. Swing Vote works better than most, making its points but not pounding on them so loudly that it overwhelms the narrative. The film takes adequate jabs at both Republicans and Democrats as their presidential candidates abandon every shred of integrity in order to win, but the film saves its real vitriol for the American public as embodied by Bud, an apathetic slacker who makes The Dude of The Big Lebowski look ambitious by comparison. The character is a redneck display of decadence and freedom without responsibility; his priorities are skewed, he is out of touch with any issues outside of himself, and cynicism has turned him off of any sense of community involvement. More than just a character, Bud is a satirical construct designed to impugn the American public. This is a perilous step for the film, as it risks alienating the audience, but Swing Vote manages to make it work. Kevin Costner stars as Bud and this is likely to go down as one of his most underappreciated performances. He is very funny but also gets to face some inner demons and has some terrific scenes with Madeline Carroll, who plays his precocious daughter. The satire of the film also works really well with some laugh out loud political ads from the candidates and some nice unity within the screenplay as everyone risks their integrity in the pursuit of happiness.
What Doesn’t: About halfway through, Swing Vote loses some steam. It tries to make up for that in a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-style finale, but Bud makes his transition too quickly without passing through any concrete Rubicon of experience that forces him to change his thinking.
Bottom Line: Although it falls short of being a great film, Swing Vote’s heart is in the right place. It’s a brave film in that it points the critique most directly at the average viewer, but Swing Vote manages to pull it off in the end and this is a successful satire.
Episode: #199 (August 10, 2008)