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Adding humour to politics

What if Ricky Bobby were president? A couple weeks ago, we discussed the awesome evolution of director Adam McKay.
notorious RBG On the Basis of Sex, a biopic on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is out this week. photo by Jonathan Wenk/ Focus Features

What if Ricky Bobby were president?

A couple weeks ago, we discussed the awesome evolution of director Adam McKay.

Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers stand as the strongest comedic hat trick of the 2000s and McKay was able to take a step back after that, produce more, and pivot into more serious films.

In 2015, he co-wrote and directed The Big Short (and took home a writing Oscar for his troubles) and this week, McKay is back at it with Vice, a too-depraved-to-be-made-up dark comedy that skewers G.W. Bush and focuses on the corrupt rise and chaotic peak of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney (who should have been charged as a war criminal and locked up ages ago).

The good news is McKay hasn't turned his back on his roots; he approaches Vice with a style of absurd humour that isn't routine in the political, Oscar-bait genre. (Isn't it time more people called politics out for the "circle-jerk puppet show" it too often is?)

Mostly focused on the era of George W. Bush (where Cheney was vice president), McKay even draws parallels between the President (played by Sam Rockwell) and Will Ferrell's classic Talladega character Ricky Bobby—both bumbling fools and pawns to some higher forces. In this case, that force is Cheney, a sinister career politician who first cut his teeth under that crook Nixon, and never looked back.

McKay also pokes at the larger picture, pointing out that the seeds for the mash-up of politics and theatre were planted long before Trump took the reins and that most of the low points in recent American history (Vietnam, Cambodia, imaginary "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq) are not only connected, but are the work of many of the same people and families.

It's a powerful lambasting, and highly watchable, but McKay is essentially preaching to the choir and his contempt for the protagonist of his film is almost at odds with Christian Bale's incredible transformation in the title role. We know Cheney was a douche of the highest order, but how did he get that way?

Also playing this week, On the Basis of Sex is another biopic, this time on Ruth Bader Ginsburg—who celebrated her 25th year on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018. This flick, however, focuses on Ginsburg as younger woman battling discrimination in the '60s and '70s, specifically discrimination "on the basis of sex."

Heroically intelligent and driven, Ginsburg graduated top of her law class in 1959 and immediately found it next to impossible to land employment because she was, "a woman, a mother, and a Jew to boot!" as one character explains.

Battling in the trenches, Ginsburg eventually throws a wrench into the cogs of American justice by finding and arguing cases where men were being discriminated against (a male-restricted drinking age in Oklahoma, widowers could receive housing benefits but unmarried men could not, etc.) and using those victories to prove discrimination on the basis of sex was unconstitutional.

Ginsburg is a fascinating person (she's now affectionately known as "The Notorious RBG"), but On the Basis of Sex is a bit of a high-level gloss-over that doesn't dig deep enough into exactly what fuels Ginsburg's legendary fire (the music score also telegraphs every emotion of the film so blatantly that it all starts to feel melodramatic).

Still, this is a watchable film due in part to Felicity Jones' committed portrayal. Perhaps Mimi Leder (Deep Impact), unlike McKay with Vice, purposefully made her film more rosy, polished and digestible in hopes of hitting audiences who may need to be reminded that discrimination was, and continues to be, a festering sore on the face of justice and a very real thing that continues to tear at the very fabric of civilization. (Anyone looking to dive more deeply can check the much more detailed Ginsburg documentary called RBG on iTunes.)

The Download of the Week is The Departed, Martin Scorsese's 2006 Boston crime flick that finally netted him an Oscar (remember when the Three 6 Mafia had more Oscars than Scorsese?). With an all-star cast (Matt Damon, Leo DiCaprio, Martin Sheen, Jack Nicholson, Alec Baldwin, Vera Farmiga, Mark Wahlberg) Scorsese embarks on a multi-layered hunt for rats, informants and deception on the mean streets of Boston. It's the perfect antidote to superhero movies.