It used to be so much easier to make fun of the President. Americans just assumed a politician was duplicitious and if an honest man (and it was still always a man) got in there, he’d shake things up. I guess ever since Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, moviegoers hoped for an honest man to change the system. 25 years ago, Dave tried to.
Kevin Kline played both President Bill Mitchell and presidential impersonator Dave Kovic. The White House hires Dave to double the President for a simple walk to the limo, thus blowing the lid off the White House’s best kept secret. How many other presidential walks were not the real President???
When Bill Mitchell suffers a stroke, chief of staff Bob Alexander (Frank Langella) gets the idea to install Dave as the real Bill Mitchell, thus maintaining control over the White House rather than letting the Vice President (Ben Kingsley) take over.
Would Dave be totally irrelevant today? We now have a President who would never use a double. Trump eats up every rally or speaking opportunity. He’d never let anyone else get a second of his attention, not even for security reasons, not even just to wave to the crowd. There could be cameras there.
Before the stroke, director Ivan Reitman gets the face to face shot of Dave and Bill meeting, and it has a camera move that’s ambitious for 1993. Although I guess anything after Back to the Future Part II is a piece of cake.
The comedy of Dave comes from the fish out of water situation of an average joe in politics, and the film’s tone is optimistic. The joke is that Dave is much nicer and warmer than Bill Mitchell, a change attributed by most to his near death experience.
There are tons of cameos from real politicians of the’ 90s, and even Reitman’s good friend Arnold Schwarzenegger who was a big Presidential advisor on fitness at the time.
Oliver stone playing up his conspiracy reputation is great. This was before it became a cliche. He’d only made on conspiracy movie at that point.
Jay Leno cameos and even jokes about fictional President are lame. Bill Mitchell’s eating too many Happy Meals? Because he’s acting happy? That really was the kind of joke Leno was doing at 11:30 so Dave was politically accurate down to the media.
But really, Bob and Communications Director Alan Reed (Kevin Dunn) installed Dave but they can’t control him forever. He starts doing the job of President and cutting the budget, because who can call him out? Anyone who knows he’s not Mitchell would be implicated in high treason.
It’s rather scathing in the guise of an affable summer comedy. What if you let an average American have the power to change things? He wouldn’t let you have all your redundant programs and kickbacks.
Dave is optimistic about what a President could be but realistic about the forces that won’t let him. One Dave starts using his power, he knows there’s a ticking clock because Mitchell’s wife Ellen (Sigourney Weaver) finds out he’s an impostor, and of course Bob starts scheming. So Dave swings for the fences with a jobs act while he still can.
Another political comedy I like, The Distinguished Gentleman, took this on at the congressional level. Eddie Murphy’s character was also a fraud (although he was legally elected) who ended up involved in a real cause that threatened the powerful establishment. The comic hero could take down the corruption before he was found out himself.
I like it. It’s sort of a backdoor way to make viewers understand the realities of the political system, since most of them probably aren’t paying attention in school. I include myself in that. I learned more about politics from satire than from textbooks.
It also harkens back to a time when these were our biggest problems as a country. Yeah, it sucks that politicians lie. It sucks even more that year after year, voters believe them. Maybe don’t vote for the one that promises you everything you want. Choose the one who’s realistic about what’s achievable. Politicians are always going to lie but we can at least make them work a little harder for it.
Movies always depicted Presidents more ideally than our real leaders. Later in the ‘90s, Independence Day and Air Force One featured action hero presidents that people wished would replace Bill Clinton. So people always wish for better leaders and Hollywood often indulges them.
Dave had to do far less than fight aliens or terrorists to win America’s affection. All he had to do was make sensible decisions in office. Let’s make America Dave again.