Game Change: What Did America Think?

It seems rather apt that HBO’s Game Change aired in America as the Republican Party come towards the end of a savage and divisive battle to find an opponent for Obama in this year’s election.

When John McCain was choosing a running mate back in 2008, things were a lot simpler. In the face of Obama’s populism, he went for a wildcard who could swing the race back in his direction. He went for the brash and untested Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin.

Based on the novel of the same name by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, the film debuted in the States on Saturday night and will be coming to Sky Atlantic in May. It received mixed reviews in most quarters and provoked strong reactions, particularly from Palin’s right-wing fanbase and some felt that the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic candidacy (which made up half the book) should have been included. Despite not watching it, Palin herself has already dismissed Game Change as ‘unimportant’ and lambasted the film’s ‘false narrative’.

“We’ve discussed this and realized that Hollywood lies are Hollywood lies,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “They’re going to do what they can to drum up their money and their machine, and their machine happens to be a very pro-leftist, pro-Barack Obama machine there at HBO that created this movie.”

However Nicole Wallace, the aide played by Sarah Paulsen explained that Jay Roach (Meet The Parents and Austin Powers) had put something together which was “true enough to make me squirm.”

In his review for Moviefone, Jason Apuzzo described the movie as “a love-letter to old-school Republican centrists of the McCain variety. Game Change will likely do what most political movies made by Hollywood’s elite power brokers do these days: enrage conservatives, fill liberals with a fleeting sense of superiority, and drive HBO’s ratings down while the rest of us watch SportsCenter or Shahs of Sunset.” Yet he went on to explain that the biggest problem was the “incredibly clunky script – written with all the grace and subtlety of a Super PAC ad.”

Iconic critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times also cited Wallace as he argued that Game Change wasn’t as fanciful as some would have us believe.. “Palin’s supporters are protesting its negative portrait, the facts and dialogue seem to be accurate. When Newsweek’s David Frum asked Schmidt what he thought about the film, he said it was “an out-of-body experience.” Neither he nor Wallace (who confessed that after working with Palin she was unable to vote for McCain) has questioned its accuracy.”

Meanwhile, Moviefone branded Game Change “pure political soap opera, which often makes for compelling drama – though to be fair, it’s probably not an accurate view into the behind-the-scenes dynamics of the 2008 McCain campaign, or into the personality of its megawatt star, Sarah Palin.”

Julianne Moore’s performance also divided critics. “Yes, the hair, makeup and costumes contribute mightily to transforming Moore, but the nuance she brings to the performance is simply astounding.” says David Weigand in the San Francisco Chronicle.

But Jason Apuzzo was less complimentary, although he did accept the mighty task Moore was set.. “As Palin, Julianne Moore attempts the impossible: depicting someone who is already one of the most vivid, well-known personalities on the political scene. Unfortunately, in Game Change Moore seems too trapped recreating Palin’s accent and mannerisms to give the kind of full-bodied, Betty Davis-style performance the movie probably deserved. Moore plays Palin like an earnest librarian, rather than as a gun-toting Mama grizzly – and it doesn’t quite work.”

“Game Change stretches the Palin-as-ignoramus cliché past the point of credibility.” says Libertas Film Magazine. “What we didn’t expect to discover after viewing “Game Change,” a new HBO film about the 2008 McCain campaign, was how much sympathy I would feel for Palin, and even more for John McCain.”

..And Indie Wire described it as “one of the most effective political cautionary tales to date, an evidential A-Z portrait of what not to do when trying to pick a running mate.”

“It would be hard to call the portrayal sympathetic,” said The Hollywood Reporter. “The movie is told mostly through the eyes of Schmidt, whose gamble backfired, and his disdain for Palin grows exponentially as the story progresses. And that’s the ultimate problem with Game Change. It’s a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at politics — as long as you’re a Democrat (or a Republican willing to admit that Palin was a blunder — but even then, the other elements will likely put you off). And yet, credit Game Change for at least trying to dramatize that moment in time.”

Alan Sepinwall from Hitfix says that although the right-wing will be outraged, no one comes of well.. “though I was not and am not a fan of Sarah Palin, the film demonizes her just as much as she does the people with whom she disagrees.”

“Palin isn’t quite as broadly-drawn as, say, many of the Republican bogeymen on “The West Wing,” where even though I agreed with the writer’s politics, I cringed at the one-sided portrait of the other side, but nor is it particularly insightful or three-dimensional in telling this very familiar, very divisive story. Even if you take the side of the authors and filmmakers over Palin and believe that the film is 100% accurate, it doesn’t shed enough new light on things to be worth the trouble of making, or watching.”

For John Nolte at Breitbart, HBO’s message was simple: “You’re either with the cool, smart, classy, sophisticated kids who stand against Palin, or you’re with The Mob, the rubes, the snake handlers, the shit-kickers.”

Yet those smart, classy, sophisticated kids may not quite have got the conclusion they wanted said Mary McNamara at “Those who come to ‘Game Change’ Saturday looking for blame or explanation will be disappointed, as they should be. A political character study done a mere four years after the major event in the character’s life cannot, and should not, attempt to be definitive.â€?