Flying through the air with the greatest of ease (while taking a short trip from LAX to Atlanta and back), I couldn’t help thinking about today’s election. Like most Americans, I am thoroughly sick of all the ugliness of this election cycle. But when I chose the movies to watch on my seat-back monitor, I couldn’t help making connections between Hollywood and what’s going on in our nation’s polling places.
Leaving Los Angeles for Atlanta, I caught up with a 2015 film I hadn’t seen in theatres, David O. Russell’s Joy. This “based-on-a-true-story” flick about a frazzled young mother whose strong sense of self-worth leads her to entrepreneurial success was one of several 2015 movies that exalt the notion of female empowerment. Look at the roles of the women nominated for Best Actress for a 2015 film. I didn’t see Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years, so I’ll skip past that one. But in Carol, both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara play women who dare to make an unconventional choice that defies society’s expectations about gender roles. In Joy, Jennifer Lawrence takes on the part of the real-life Joy Mangano, who invented a miracle mop and became a tycoon after daring to shill it on QVC TV. The message: be your authentic self, and good things will follow. In Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan is a shy young Irish lass who comes into her own in commerce and in love, both through her native smarts and through an emerging independent streak. The 2015 Oscar went, though. to Brie Larson. Larson’s character in Room starts out as a victim of abduction and rape. But the film’s focus is on how this unfortunate and very young woman saves herself and her son through a gutsy determination to escape their captor. None of these films is overtly political, but -- at a time when we’re voting on the possibility of the first U.S. female president -- all these feisty females seem to convey a sense of “Yes I can.”
Returning to L.A., I was amused to find that someone at Delta Airlines had programmed a quartet of classic choices relating to elections and the presidency. I could have watched Dave, or Napoleon Dynamite (you may recall he’s trying to help his friend Pedro become president of their high school class). Instead, I opted for two favorites of mine, one of them oldish and one much older.
Election was many viewers’ first introduction to the work of Alexander Payne. It’s the hilarious but pointed story of a conscientious high school history teacher (Matthew Broderick, far removed from his laid-back Ferris Bueller mode) who ruins his life when trying to stop an over-zealous high school high-achiever (Reese Witherspoon) from cheating her way into the office of student body president. Anyone who mistrusts earnest blonde women will probably make some connections between Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick and one current candidate for high office.
After watching Election, I switched to one of my favorite movies of all time, Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece, Citizen Kane. (How terrific to find this available on an airplane!) The story of an idealistic but brash young American newspaper publisher who evolves into an unloved and unloving mogul contains so many themes that I can’t broach them all here. But at one point Kane’s cocky enough to launch a campaign for governor. His “October surprise” is the revelation in rival papers that he’s been caught in a love nest with a pretty blonde.. On election eve, his New York Inquirer prints up two possible headlines: “Kane Wins in a Landslide” or “Fraud At the Polls.” Sound familiar?