What did Will Ferrell's 'The Campaign' take from Sarah Palin's VP run and other real-life politics?

Actor Will Ferrell arrives at the Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures'
Actor Will Ferrell arrives at the Premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Campaign" at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on August 2, 2012 in Hollywood, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Listen to story

Download this story 1.0MB

Everything you hate about politics in America is in "The Campaign," a new comedy from director Jay Roach.

He started work on the farce before wrapping up direction on "Game Change," his HBO behind-the-scenes political drama depicting Sarah Palin’s doomed vice presidential campaign. He also directed HBO's film "Recount" about the cliffhanger 2000 presidential election.

His immersion in the murky depths of American electioneering richly informs scenes in "The Campaign," like the trash-talking, death-grip pre-debate handshakes of congressional candidates played by Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis.

“I had stumbled onto that moment in the Sarah Palin story when she walked up to Joe Biden before the debate and said, ‘May I call you Joe?’ and the mics caught it by mistake, and it was sort of a private moment that went global," Roach said.

The film builds on other true-life political gaffes like former Rep. Anthony Weiner texting a crotch photo to a college student. Roach said he wrote his outlandish sexting scene long before the Weiner episode made news.

The creepy “Demon Sheep” spot Carly Fiorina’s campaign ran against Tom Campbell in the 2010 Senate race shows up barely disguised in the Ferrell film. Roach also invokes the Dick Cheney shotgun accident and creates a pair of villains reminiscent of the Koch brothers — here they're the Moach brothers.

Roach had worked with both comic actors in separate films and wanted to see them together. A political film was the perfect backdrop, he said.

“The main reason it’s in politics is that’s the best arena to get two guys trash-talking to each other and going for mutually assured destruction, because it is kind of the social professional wrestling arena that it’s become,” Roach said.

Ferrell and Galifianakis play candidates for Congress in North Carolina. Ferrell’s the incumbent, but his misdialed phone message to a mistress costs him public support and the financial backing of the fictional industrialist Moach brothers.

The brothers want to move their sweatshop factories and underpaid foreign workers to North Carolina. They recruit meek underachiever Galifianakis to be their candidate.

As the campaign counts down to Election Day, a baby gets punched. There’s a hunting shotgun — insert air quotes — "accident." There’s political payback as the candidates go negative in the extreme, preying on each other’s families.

“If you have two really funny guys that you want to pit against each other and lock them together despite them having to fight to the death, almost, politics is the perfect choice," Roach said.

With the presidential election just a few months away, the film comes out before we've all reached saturation level exhaustion on political satire, or the real events that inspire it.

What are your thoughts on campaign season? Have your own peeves about campaigns and campaign coverage? KPCC is looking for your input for our future coverage.