It's taken me the better part of a year for me to see this film. Despite several invitations to see the film I had been unable to do so. Hell I turned down opportunities to see this at The Paley Center in New York and the IFC Center and a few other special screenings. This is a well traveled film that had until this eve of becoming available on I-Tunes and its PBS airing (it screens 6/30) had eluded me.
I mention this long chase to see the film because I know the chase, plus the discussions of the film with people who've seen it has colored my take. Despite my best efforts I'm coming in with baggage...
Following three young men, Ben, Nick and DJ, all hoping to one day become President of the United States the film documents as they wade into the political process for real and see what it really takes to run a campaign.
For me this is a kind of frightening film in that this shows what it really takes to become President. The drive and desire that has to come at an early age in order to wade into the political arena. It shows very clearly what sort of person that wants to suffer the slings and arrows to get an elected seat has to be one that can turn off and on the charm.
For me the scary thing is that these guys are so into the game of politics it's kind of hard to know if they really want to do anything other than climb up the ladder of success. Watching the film I'm left to ponder do they really want to effect some sort of social change? I think that DJ does. His waffling around around on the issues, he states at one point that he was very Republican but was shifting toward being a Democrat does want to do good for more than himself. With Ben and Nick I'm not so sure, since both seem at times to be so slick that they would sell their grandmothers to get ahead.
I've had a couple of conversations before seeing the film about how the film is hopeful in that is shows how young people are interested in the political process. Now having seen the film I agree that is kind of the case but at the same time I'm frightened by the plastic self serving personalities the guys show. Perhaps its the fact that they are playing to the cameras coupled with their age, but there are times when the trio seems more like snake oil salesman. Perhaps I'm being overly critical and perhaps in time they will learn to fake the sincerity that makes them seem like caring human beings. For now any hope is tempered with a bit of trepidation.
Criticism of the three subjects aside this is a really good film. Its a look at the early days of three young men who one day may be running the country...and it's kind of scary. I know that many people who have seen the film have walked away from it feeling kind of hopeful, for me it was kind of scary because in the three I see a future of political candidates who are exactly mini versions of the people we have running the country. It shows how distant they can be to the real issues and real people outside of themselves.
I like that it reveals how many politicians of necessity are out of touch with the issues on all but an abstract level. Watching the guys take their positions and talk about the issues we see that they aren’t connected to anything on a real level, they are mouthing position points and not really stating their views. Part of it is the result of the fact that they are so young that they haven't had time to live, but I think a large part is that they are driving so hard to get ahead they don’t have time to really experience anything outside of the political chase...they need to be liked and say something to get you to their side.
One also gets a weird glimpse in the weird split between the guys as they promote themselves as political animals, and then the young men at home who think that say collecting political memorabilia and autographs like baseball cards is cool. Somewhere in the split one begins to understand how so many politicians get into trouble when their private life invades their public.
No matter what your take is on politics, I think you should take the time to see this film. Its an important look at how and why we get the politicians we do. As I said at the top it's on ITunes tomorrow and PBS on the 30th.