W: …is a real dude, turns out!

How do you spell out the sound you make with a surprised shrug? You know, like “I wasn’t expecting that but OK! I can hang!” “Huh”? “Muh”!?

Here are three things you should know about Oliver Stone‘s new film W before you go (and you should go) see it.

1. W is not a comedy!
I sort of assumed this from the ads, but luckily someone warned me before I went. I mean, sometimes it’s funny that he says “misunderestimated” and sometimes it’s funny that Stone expects us to buy Josh Brolin (who is 40) as an 18 year old W, but for the most part, Stone’s biopic about George Walker Bush is an elegantly made interpretation of the life and career of our forty-third president. It is not a satire, it is not not an expose, it simply shows us a man who tries really hard but can’t seem to get what he wants. And most of the time, it seems like what he wants is the respect of older, smarter men than he, starting and ending with his father. It’s hard for me to really believe that W is so commanding and…well, I guess “manly” is the right word…of a figure as Josh Brolin makes him out to be. But what do I know, I guess. I’ve certainly never had lunch with the President, and I’ve only been to one or two top secret White House war room meetings. All I see of his demeanor is a guy who gives terrible speeches and tends to look around him with an expression of bewildered amazement. So for that reason, it’s difficult for me to really fully connect this character with the actual Bush. This Bush struggles with his cabinet, really listens to his wife, and genuinely believes that he wants the best for America.

Eight years after his election, we’re in a privileged position as moviegoers. We know the irony behind the Mission Accomplished banner, and we know to keep our eye out for his speechwriters’ grimaces at the word “nucular.” But what might be hard for some people to swallow is how W wants us to simultaneously sympathize and ostracize. I wouldn’t call this film non-partisan. It certainly wouldn’t make a hardcore Bush supporter chuckle through his or her popcorn (although if Laura Bush isn’t flattered by her own portrayal, she’s less cool than Stone makes her out to be). However, Bush is often shown taking the wind out of the sails of the movie’s true villain, Dick Cheney, and he cries out sincerely that although he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he really and truly wants to be the best American he can. And although this is certainly topical, being election season in an election year, I still wouldn’t call this anti-Republican. If anything, it reflects a now widespread desire for change, which both Obama and McCain of course use to their advantage. McCain is even shown almost rolling his eyes during a speech W gives to the Senate. That’s not quite Obama propaganda! But perhaps that’s not this film’s MO.

2. W and its cast members will win at least one Oscar!
You’ve heard of the Jamie Foxx Effect* (the higher probability that an actor has of winning Best Actor and a film has of being nominated for Best Picture due to his/her/its portrayal of a real person, thereby giving the Academy something concrete on which to base their assessment of their acting/representation). Well, bust my buttons, W is jam-packed with good impressions of famous people, especially unflattering impressions of people we love to hate. Richard Dreyfuss‘s Dick Cheney is alarming in its evil accuracy (and also in its confirmation that ol’ Dreyfuss is getting old), and James Cromwell is spot on as George Herbert Walker Bush, a taller, sadder version of his son. Elizabeth Banks is cute, yet kinda boring as Laura Bush, who is cute, yet kinda boring, I guess. Brolin’s Bush, as I mentioned already, comes across as too brash and swaggery instead of dumb and falling over things like I want him to be. Our Bush doesn’t seem to have nearly as much energy as Brolin, but, again, that might be just a convenient opinion that my brain has formed. Either way, he’ll win Best Actor, definitely, and James Cromwell will be nominated as Best Supporting Actor (or maybe Dreyfuss). The movie itself will be nominated for Best Picture, and Ellen Burstyn might just be nominated for Best Supporting Actress, because she’s old and respected and wears that Barbara Bush wig well. These are my predictions, America. We’ll see how it pans out.

3. Thandie Newton should never ever be allowed to play Condoleezza Rice again!
Luckily, there’s unlikely to be a sequel. Newton’s Condie was so accurate as to be distracting. Although perhaps maybe my lack of intimate knowledge with the current administration is to blame again for this opinion, but it seemed like even the camera found Condie’s every move hilarious. Her ingratiating tone, her deferential nods, the way in which she charges around in the woods on command…all of it seemed so constructed yet eerily accurate. It’s just like if you had a really good, bearded impression of Sarah Palin. Part of me wants to look at it and laugh for hours, but the other part wants to look far, far away and pretend like none of this is actually happening.

*No you haven’t, and it’s because I made it up!!

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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