Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I went to see a screening this evening of a documentary called "Inside the Bubble," a behind-the-scenes look at the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign. You can watch a trailer here and read a (largely negative) review here, from today's New York Observer. There was a blurb in the Daily News about the movie earlier this week, about how it was a scathing look at the Kerry campaign's inner workings, and it sounded cool, so I found out where it was screening and bought a ticket. And it was disappointing. It's just not that interesting.

The film follows Kerry's road team -- his traveling chief of staff, his press aides, his personal assistant, his communications director -- with some cameos from a few semi-famous names like Mike McCurry, Bob Shrum, Joe Lockhart, and, um, Kerry himself. Kerry's not the star of this movie, and you don't really get much of a feel for Kerry beyond what you already know. He doesn't come off badly. This movie, even if lots of people see it, which I doubt they will, since it's not that good, shouldn't really make anyone who likes John Kerry think otherwise. He's hardly a focus of the movie.

The featured staffers, however, mostly come off as pretty un-thrilling. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with editing. The movie wasn't looking to show anyone doing actual work. It doesn't show anyone doing anything useful or productive for the entire movie. Film anyone for a few months and I'm sure there's going to be downtime where people are saying dumb offhand things, and forget there are cameras around, and don't think about how they're looking. Film anyone for a few months and I'm sure you can make them come off however you want. No one does anything corrupt, no one comes off as a criminal, no one comes off as truly incompetent. They just come off as people who had moments of frustration or immaturity like anyone else has.

If you saw the series "Staffers" on the Discovery Times channel last summer, which followed a bunch of the candidates through the primary season, this is similar. Too similar, actually, which was part of my disappointment. But most of my disappointment was that there just weren't any revelations here, nothing learned, nothing shocking, nothing unexpected. The press aide who gets the most airtime may find it hard to get a job on another campaign, I guess, if people see the movie. But not because of any demonstrated incompetence, but just because he doesn't come off as a very likable person. And that's the biggest problem with the movie, I think. No one comes off as likable. Because the movie just cherry-picks these moments of unpleasantness, there's no counter balance. There's no success. No one does anything nice in the movie. No one helps anyone. No one solves any problems. No one says anything nice about anyone else. I'm sure that's not the reality of it. I'm sure the communications director is a perfectly pleasant person. Or at least maybe she is. But you don't get the chance to figure that out, because all the movie shows are the things that make her look stupid.

The saddest thing about the movie, I think, is that it could have been more. It could have focused on strategy a bit. Successes and mistakes. Good decisions and bad ones. It could have focused on how things actually get done (or don't get done) on the campaign trail. It could have painted a real picture of what this world is like, instead of just isolating the moments on the bus when people complained about the press. There's minutes spent watching Kerry's assistant making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, licking the knife before he spread the peanut butter around, giving the sandwich to Kerry, and then realizing he licked the knife and apologizing on camera for how that must have looked. Great. This is the best they could find in months of footage. This is what they decided to make a film about.

So I'll concur with the New York Observer on this one, unfortunately. Nothing groundbreaking.