Despite its oddly selective subject matter, critics lauded the film, and it went on to receive 12 Emmy nominations, of which it won five last Sunday, including Outstanding Miniseries or TV Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, for Julianne Moore’s Palin portrayal. In her award acceptance speech, Moore boasted, “Wow, I feel so validated because Sarah Palin gave me a big thumbs down.”
But why, if the film is nonfiction, did McCain, Palin and her aidesprotest the film so vocally? And just how impartial can a film about the McCain/Palin campaign be when its director donated $2,500 to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign; its screenplay writer donated $2,300 to Obama; its star actress donated $250 to Obama, plus $5,000 to the Democratic White House Victory Fund; and its producer donated $34,500 to Obama? Not to mention, why was Moore positively gleeful at the dissatisfaction she drew from Palin by playing her?
Well, for one thing, it was filled to the brim with lies, and multiple aides who worked both on the McCain campaign and for Palin post-election refutedthecontentofthefilm. Most of those same aides were not contacted by either the co-authors of the book or the producers of the film.
Like Governor Palin, I majored in journalism, and I fully respect the importance of protecting one’s sources. But Game Change is based so heavily off of anonymous campaign aides whose stories conflict with those who are willing to go on the record, it seriously calls into question the veracity of its content. Not to mention, neither John Heilemann nor Mark Halperin, the book’s co-authors, actually covered the McCain-Palin campaign. Their reportage consists of, at best, purely second- and thirdhand accounts.
The film is largely about the conflict between Palin and two of McCain’s senior staffers, Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) and Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson). If one’s knowledge of the campaign came solely from the film, it would appear that the entire McCain campaign was a competent, albeit struggling, operation, and Palin’s entry ruined absolutely everything. In order to do this, the film underplays undoubtedly the worst decision of the entire race: Senator McCain “suspending” his campaign amidst the financial crisis, in order to go to Washington to help fix the situation.
Schmidt, a bully of questionable political acumen, pushed for going all-in, and it was a horrible misfire. The gamble made McCain look erratic and Obama appear calm in the face of danger. Polling shows that the only time during the campaign that McCain was ahead was after he announced Palin as his running mate on August 29, and it also shows that Obama regained and kept his momentum through Election Day following the mid-September financial collapse.
As if to give the film some fig leaf of legitimacy, Game Change features a number of scenes showing Palin as a devoted mother — when she isn’t having nervous breakdowns over separation anxiety from her infant son. These scenes include Palin calling her older son, Track, during his tour in Iraq and being reassured that he is safe; consoling her oldest daughter, Bristol, as she is attacked in the media for her unwed teen pregnancy; and asking her youngest daughter, Piper, to pray with her before the Vice Presidential debate, an exchange Palin herself has recounted: “What should we pray for?” “Just… pray that we win the debate.” “Mom, that would be cheating!”
Many liberals who saw the film came away with oddly positive feelings about Palin, in part due to these emotional scenes. A frequent refrain I have heard is, “The movie made me feel sympathy for her.”
“Sympathy”? Really? That is your positive feeling towards Sarah Palin after watching this film? If your friend breaks his leg, that elicits “sympathy.” Those godawful, depressing Sarah McLachlan animal abuse commercials elicit “sympathy.” Major-party Vice Presidential nominees should not elicit “sympathy.” The way liberals talk about Governor Palin in Game Change, one would think she is a battered housewife in a Lifetime special, not the second woman in American history to run for the second-highest office on Earth. These scenes are intentional, artfully inserted into the negative narrative so the final product can be passed off as “fair.”
The film is supposed to be a drama, but it repeatedly gives us moments of unintentional comedy. Case in point: When it becomes clear on election night that John McCain will lose and lose badly, Schmidt approaches Wallace, who tearfully says, ”Steve, there’s something I have to tell you. I didn’t vote. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t vote.” And she bursts into tears.