The Art of the Deal was probably conceived as a timely send up of Donald Trump, a lighthearted laugh-in to accompany the real business of a presidential campaign. But times have changed, even if Trump hasn’t, and the buffoonish nature of the candidate and candidacy is no longer a late night joke. The golden haired businessman is by sheer force of his personality ramming his way through the country’s political system, taking down the Republican Party and civility along with it. His attacks on Latinos, blacks, and women have given voice to the racists and misogynists, and chances are those voices aren’t retreating without a fight. In light of this and the actual violence that has characterized Trump’s rage-fueled rallies, it’s hard to watch this Funny or Die production and laugh at something that we’re just not laughing at anymore.
The parody is based on his 1987 book and is impressively written, directed, produced by, and starring The Donald. It takes the form of a found footage film and begins with a kid nicking Trump’s book and escaping into his office. The wide-eyed boy sits attentively as his idol recounts his past business exploits, schooling him in the process on how to screw people over to get ahead. The film borrows from its source material and is sectioned off into bold chapters – The Art of Intimidating Rent Controlled Tenants and The Art of Suing Those Losers at the NFL. Anyone with a passing interest in the election will recognize references to Trump’s discriminatory rental policies and his penchant for suing losers (i.e. anyone who disagrees with him). The narrative arc, however, traces his all consuming quest to own the Taj Mahal, not the actual Taj Mahal but the Atlantic City hotel and casino. You know, the classy one.
The film captures the sideshow nature of Trump. He’s bombastic and vainglorious, proud of destroying valuable artwork if it secures him building rights and even more self-satisfied if he inflames protestors in the process. Behind the scenes though, he’s so insecure that he can’t even take a dump without proclaiming it the biggest and best shit ever. The movie also revisits his greatest hits reel, at least that’s what he might call his collection of jaw-dropping proclamations. He tells the kid that his Vietnam vet father would have been more heroic if he had lived instead of died in action, recalls his small $14 million loan from his father, and casually mentions killing people in the middle of the street.
These all have the force of a soft jab though; there’s nothing that comedians and reporters haven’t brought up and broken down hundreds of times already, seemingly to no effect. The movie concludes that what Trump really needs is a healthy dose of humility, as if that would soothe his toxic candidacy. He’s given a few chances and gets some sympathetic, perhaps pathetic, moments. Trump spends his 40th birthday alone, with the exception of his lawyer and some strange kid, and it turns out that Alf, the muddy haired muppet, is his best friend. It is also, in my estimation, his most genuine relationship.
As almost two years of campaigning nears its end, however, light entertainment doesn’t seem an effective commentary on the times – and if that’s all this movie’s aiming for, then one wonders what’s the point. Johnny Depp may provide an amusing and admirable facsimile of Donald Trump, but the divisions in our country and the candidate’s own code of conduct invite more sober reflection and more cutting satire. The most instructive scene is when Trump dismisses and belittles his wife Ivana, literally pushing her out of view so that she remains unseen and unheard. Otherwise, the film is too happy just parroting what he says and does, exaggerating for comedic effect. Fifteen months ago, it might have been funny to watch him taking phone calls while lizarding across his office desk on all fours, but with the election weeks away and the possibility of a Trump presidency upon us, I’m not laughing.
Prod: Funny or Die
Dir: Jeremy Konner
Writer: Joe Randazzo
Cast: Johnny Depp, Ron Howard, Emjay Anthony, Kristen Schaal, Patton Oswalt, Jason Mantzoukas, Henry Winkler, Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Alfred Molina, Andy Richter, Michaela Watkins, Stephen Merchant, Albert Tsai, Jack McBrayer, Jacob Tremblay, Christopher Lloyd
Time: 50 min
Country: United States