Dylan McDermott

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Having never seen a version of Miracle on 34th Street, I figured now, when I’m in my late 30s, would be the perfect time to catch up. I still believe in Santa Claus, or at least the spirit of Santa anyway, and that’s more than six-year-old Susan (Mara Wilson) can say. She thinks we’re just a bunch of gullible fools, and she’s not impressed when her mother, Dorey (Elizabeth Perkins), the head of events for a large department store, hires a very realistic Santa (Richard Attenborough) for the holiday season. Despite his efforts and those of Dorey’s boyfriend, Bryan (Dylan McDermot), she just can’t seem to get in a Christmas mood.

I can see where Susan is headed, and it’s straight for the Hallmark Channel. She’s going to grow up into one of those women who hates Christmas because of a traumatic childhood, only to rediscover its joys after a hot guy enters her life. Mara Wilson, the cutest girl onscreen in the 90s, has a soulful sadness to her in this film, and Susan looks like a girl who’s been having an existential crisis for some time. She worries that Cole’s, the department store where her mother works, is going to be bought out and turned into a junk store, and when Bryan starts asking her about getting presents from Santa, she gives him a hard stare that says, don’t talk to me like a six year old.

I love little Susan and pint-sized Mara. Susan wants to believe in Santa so badly, but her cool, practical mother just won’t have it. Dorey even puts her relationship with Bryan on the line by insisting he stop encouraging such fanciful thinking. But Bryan is a dreamboat and all-around good guy and does what he can to give Susan a more magical Christmas experience, including a visit to Santa where her skepticism starts to fade. She concedes that the Cole’s Santa does look like the real deal and is bewitched by his beard and costume, but she really starts reconsidering when she spies Santa sharing a touching exchange with a deaf girl.

The movie is far less holly and jolly than I expected, and it seems more like a film for cynical adults than it is for bouncy kids. It doesn’t have the energy of Home Alone or the adventure of Arthur’s Christmas. Some will surely be bored by aspects of the plot, like when a competing store schemes to kidnap Santa and turn a profit. This results in the arrest and trial of Kris Kringle, and his release depends on a legal argument about the abstract concept of belief. If I was a kid, I’d much rather watch A Christmas Carol, any of them.

Miracle on 34th Street has its appeal though, and it’s thanks to the actors who really inhabit their roles. To this day, I think of Attenborough when I think of Santa Claus. McDermott is the perfect boyfriend and the perfect complement to Perkins. The movie is as much about Dorey as it is about Susan. The latter knows what she wants – a childhood filled with family and wonder. It turns out that Dorey wants that too; she just doesn’t realize it yet.

Released: 1994
Prod: John Hughes, William Ryan, William S. Beasley
Dir: Les Mayfield
Writer: George Seaton, John Hughes
Cast: Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott, Mara Wilson, J.T. Walsh, Simon Jones, James Remar, Jane Leeves, William Windom, Robert Prosky, Joss Ackland
Time: 114 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2018

The Campaign (2012)

the campaign film

When The Campaign was released in 2012, there seemed to be some restoration of order in American politics. Sure, Rick Santorum was convinced that he might actually win the Republican nomination, but when the campaign season ended, a predictable duo – Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – stood atop the GOP dais, suit jackets off and sleeves rolled up, their million dollar smiles giving light to the darkness. It was a far cry from the Sarah Palin circus that had thrown the political world into tumult four years earlier.

Well, here we are again, caught in that ever-widening intersection of a Venn diagram that is politics and entertainment, and like some fraying red, white, and blue bunting, we can pull out The Campaign in the hopes of adding some Hollywood flair to it all. The principals involved in this production are not novices to the political entertainment sphere. Director Jay Roach helmed HBO’s Recount and Game Change, writer Chris Henchy penned episodes of the 1990s hit Spin City, and stars Will Ferrell famously played a president on SNL while Zach Galifianakis interviewed one in his web comedy, Between Two Ferns. To borrow this season’s buzzword, these guys are kind of establishment, and that hasn’t been a good thing.

The film throws a spotlight on much of what is wrong with today’s political atmosphere. Congressional incumbent Cam Brady (Ferrell), a Democrat from North Carolina, is a shoo-in for the upcoming election despite his sexual indiscretions. The dastardly Koch Motch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd), hoping to secure a deal with a Chinese company, exploit this and convince feeble family man Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) to run on the Republican ticket. Marty is no match for his bellicose opponent though, so the Motch brothers hire a slippery campaign manager (Dylan McDermott) to even things out. In no time, mud, and fists, are flying.

In a normal election year, say 2012, The Campaign would be an amusing companion piece, a gentle ribbing of our dysfunctional system. But it’s 2016, and we’ve entered a political twilight zone, one that necessitates art that dismantles lies, not just mocks them. This film is funny in an extended sketch comedy kind of way, with leads playing to extreme type and cartoonish villains who chomp cigars and get their comeuppance. It pokes fun at Sarah Barracuda and Dick Cheney’s shooting mishap and is at least equal opportunity in its send-ups, demonizing the money, the politicians, the operatives, the media, the electorate – basically everyone in this great democratic process. But it only ever feels familiar, never uncomfortable. There’s not much in here that hasn’t already been revealed by late night comedy or, on occasion, actual reporters.

The time is ripe for a film that doesn’t just cut close but cuts open the cancers of Citizens United and faux patriotism. The Motch brothers sneer and proclaim that in America “when you’ve got the money, nothing is unpredictable,” a truism but not a particularly shocking one. It seems just pointless for Cam to spout “America, Jesus, Freedom” and then gamely admit that he doesn’t know what it means but knows that people love him for saying it. We’ve moved past this point in our national discourse, and this film along with it.

Released: 2012
Prod: Jay Roach, Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis
Dir: Jay Roach
Writer: Chris Henchy, Shawn Harwell
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis, Katherine LaNasa, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, Dan Ackroyd, Brian Cox, Sarah Baker, Karen Maruyama
Time: 85 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016