Ferrell & Galfianakis Campaign for Laughs (and Big Grosses)
This political season has been so funny - just watch "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report" on any day of the week - that a satiric comedy on a fictional Congressional race may seem redundant. But it is a combination of broad humor and satiric jabs that is making "The Campaign" more than just a late summer, star-driven comedy.
In the film Will Ferrell and Zach Galfianakis play rival candidates running in a North Carolina district, so expect such outrageous bits as Ferrell punching a baby or Galfianakis shooting his rival (Dick Cheney-style) in the leg. But also expect commentary on a political system out-of-joint. It’s a juggling act, to be sure; but one handled by a director adept at balancing such disparate elements: Jay Roach. He is the man behind both the "Austin Powers" and "Meet the Parents" series, as well as such insightful HBO political dramas as "Recount" and "Game Change." He won the 2008 Emmy for Best Director for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special for "Recount" and is nominated this year for "Game Change."
"We’re in the middle of serious things," Roach explained in a recent interview at ComingSoon.net, "and we find humor, and sometimes in the middle of a humorous moment, we’re reminded what really matters in a serious way. I feel lucky and kind of grateful to be at that place where I can get serious and then also try to make people laugh, which I still very much love to do."
At the beginning of a cross-country whistle stop publicity tour, Ferrell and Galifianakis took the stage in Los Angeles. Of course, giving either of them a microphone is a license to allow each to improvise and play off each other, such as when Galifianakis expressed his idea for a change to motor vehicle laws.
"[I would] make it legal to take a left on red," Galifianakis said.
Ferrell took it from there.
"We’ve got to get that done," Ferrell said. "I think that’s on the ballot this year, Prop 89: Left on Red. Left on Red! Left on Red! Left on Red! Seattle’s already passed Left on Red so they’re ahead of us. Maybe when we come back, Left on Red will be a reality."
Getting serious, Ferrell shared his political agenda should he ever run for actual office. "I would do exactly what the Congress people are doing right now: nothing," Ferrell said. "I’d just hang out in Washington and go to great restaurants."
The "candidates" were also asked how they would get the Latino vote.
"We were at Carlos Santana’s house last night," Galifianakis said. "He was helpful. Who else did we hang out with, Will? Garrison Keillor, big Hispanic. No? Nothing? Good."
Ferrell continued, "Zach and I have been spending a lot of time with Ricky Martin lately.
Poquito mas." He paused, then added, "We eat a lot of poquito mas."
Corrupt politico vs. small town naif
In the film, Cam Brady (Ferrell) is an incumbent Democratic Congressman running unopposed for a fourth term in a backwater North Carolina district. A pair of big money industrialists (patterned after the Koch Brothers) funds Marty Huggins (Galifianakis), a nerd from an old guard Republican family to run against him. Both roles are perfectly suited for each: the corrupt politico and the small town naïf. But for Farrell, at least, he took the role on the rebound from not being cast in another summer blockbuster.
"I auditioned for Batman and Warner Brothers said it was already taken," Ferrell joked.
"And I auditioned for Fatman and that was taken also," ad-libbed Galifianakis.
The actors got a bit serious when explaining their characters. "Cam Brady is for anything that will get him elected," Ferrell said. "He is a four-time incumbent who potentially is going to be picked to be vice president. That’s as high as his aspirations go. He likes the idea of being a vice president where you don’t really have to work too hard. He has some shortcomings. He’s a little bit of a philandering politician and that opens the door for Marty to begin his campaign."
Marty Huggins is Mr. Small Town Innocent. He’s friends with everyone, even those who don’t like him, and always assumes the best in people. "Marty Huggins is a guy that is kind of a black sheep of his family (a well-known old guard Republican family). His family (led by a staunched conservative played by Brian Cox) has kind of ostracized [him,]" Galifianakis said. "But because he has a family name, they put him to challenge Cam. It’s like putting a Kennedy up there in North Carolina. So I’m kind of a fish out of the water when it comes to the political game, and I think Will’s character is very savvy at it."
It’s no accident that the film is coming out just as the election season is coming to a head.
"Well, it helps that there is, I believe, a presidential election happening in, is it December?" Ferrell said slipping in an extra joke. "When does it take place? November, and with the state of how crazy politics are getting, we thought it would be a very timely and funny way to make fun of politics."
One thing that screenwriters Shawn Harwell and Chris Henchy pick up on is how the real politicians are pushing the boundaries this year, be it in the huge volume of negative ads and the extreme nature of their content. "Well, it gets fairly dirty," Ferrell said. "I think politics has gotten vulgar and we comedically portray that. I think that the movie is a collection (of political targets). We’re making fun of all of them. I think you’ll see shades of a lot of different politicians that we’re poking fun at."
With voters having a record low opinion of Congress, this year is an especially good time for such a satiric treatment. "I think with Congress’ approval rating below 20 percent," Ferrell said. "Oh 10 percent, it’s at 10? Nice. I think that’s what they were going for. I think there’s tons of fodder there. With the presidential race, there’s always a camera on the two candidates so there’s plenty of opportunity to make fun of both guys."
But you don’t have to know or care anything about politics to enjoy the movie. "We’re hoping the audience enjoys it," Galifianakis said. "It’s poking fun at the political system. There are very good jokes in it and also there’s a little bit of a message that doesn’t swing right or left. It’s just a good message for the American people at home I think."
The only message Ferrell has is simple: "My message to Washington is: STOP SCREWING AROUND! That’s my message."
"The Campaign" opens Friday.