A peek behind the curtain: for my usual Thursday blog posts, I watch the decided movie the weekend before and do my writing on Wednesday. This past Sunday, Cinefamily did a very feminist and patriotic screening of the 1999 teen comedy Dick This seemed like the perfect film today write about post-election; girl power, bad ass blondes etc. I hadn’t ever entertained the idea that I’d be writing this piece under very different circumstances. I live in the bubble of Los Angeles with like-minded millennials so the reality of Donald Trump being elected president sounded like a farce. The past 24 hours I’ve been at a loss for words, feeling as if I’m in an alternate timeline from Back to the Future Part II. To my fault, I’m not a very political person. I get most of my news from BBC Africa so I’d describe myself as someone who looks at things from a global scale. I leave for Senegal on Saturday (a trip I planned before the election results) and I’m going to have to explain my country’s decision to every taxi driver, tour guide and shop owner I meet. When I visited Ghana last year and people found out I’m American, they’d smile and start cheering “Obama!” I don’t want to imagine what they’ll say to me now. Something much worse and in French.
So how do I tie this in with the movie Dick? I wasn’t alive in 1972 and I’m no historian but at that time, America had the smell of doom, similarly falling apart. Most notably, we were stuck in an unwinnable war that was killing men faster than we could send them and with the Watergate scandal, the country was betrayed by those in the highest entrusted power. Those issues and the general climate of sexism is at the center of this movie about two 15-year-old Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) who find themselves in the wilds of the corrupt administration after witnessing the Watergate bugging. The film’s tone is able to look back with a more upbeat perspective rather than the bleak nihilism one might have felt while it was happening. This is a movie packed with loud, colorful costumes by Deborah Everton, a best-of disco soundtrack and satirical performances by premier sketch comedy actors including Will Ferrell, Dave Foley and Harry Shearer. Writer/Director Andrew Fleming turns the turmoil of the 1970’s into a hilarious spectacle as these two girls unbeknownst to the public and even themselves, change the course of history. It’s an escapist, popcorn flick but with this poignant, educational undertone. And there’s Ryan Reynolds to boot!
It’s quite bizarre that this movie was made and not surprisingly a flop because it’s an unlikely intersection of genres with politics and teen comedy. The more successful films of that year would be She’s All That, American Pie and 10 Things I Hate About You, none which you would imagine prime for an All The President’s Men mash up. Yet that’s why this movie is so great, partially because it’s combining the unlikely but that it’s not underestimating its audience. This is a movie about underestimation, especially towards women. Betsy and Arlene are seen by men as giddy empty-headed girls and the opening presents just that. As Nixon’s men break into the Watergate complex where Arlene lives, the two girls are up late writing into a contest to win a date with pop idol Bobby Sherman. Arlene dictates her puppy love to Betsy who is inept with the typewriter. While they sneak out to mail the letter, they run into G. Gordon Libby (Shearer) which provokes the administration to “deal” with the teens, making sure they don’t comprehend or tell anyone what they saw. The men in power quickly assume they have nothing to worry about with the ditzy youths who are more interested in walking Checkers and baking cookies that Nixon (played by Dan Hedaya) and his cabinet speak freely about their criminal acts in their presence. The plot is all leading up to the administration’s incorrect perceptions biting them in the ass as Betsy and Arlene become the notorious “Deep Throat” informants that break the Washington Post story and force Nixon’s resignation. Even with knowing the outcome of the narrative, you’re excited for these girls to deliver the ultimate fuck you to the men in suits who rule their lives. What I like is yes, they are ditzy but they’re not dumb. Dunst and Williams light up the screen with their bubbly presence and are such believable teens with their naivete of the world but they mature in the course of the film and for sure Arlene grew up to be a boss politicians. Just like many of the youths of that decade, the older generation looked at them as stupid potheads who would amount to nothing but they protested and fought back. In this movie those sentiments are compacted into high spirited, roller skating young women.
Watching a comedy like Dick that has the 20/20 hindsight and sense of humor to make light of what was an equally scary moment in America’s history makes me hope we will be able to do the same in thirty years. That’s hard to envision because the state of affairs right now already is larger than life. Dick is an obvious exaggeration but life as it is November 9th, 2016 feels impossible to heighten. Betsy and Arlene’s emotional arc is very similar to mine yesterday. It began with blissful ignorance that the world was fine then the harsh realization that there’s a lot of hate and lies that were right in front of me. I want the grand finale elation of a giant banner that exclaims “You Suck” which is how a lot of us feel right now. I try to look at everything in an African standpoint but the world is so surreal right now listening to Zimbabwe’s massive inflation and failing economy, the human rights violations in Somalia and the continued political protests in Burundi, it doesn’t sound too farfetched for similar ripples to occur here. If I can recommend a movie during this trying time, Dick is not a bad way to go. Revel in bell bottoms, flower power and ABBA for an hour and a half. It will help to take the edge off.