There’s a scene in Game Change where Sarah Palin, played by Julieanne Moore, is watching Sarah Palin played by Tina Fey.
The colour is drained from her face as Fey dumbs her down to a hockey mom out of her depth in the race to the US Vice Presidency in 2008.
But if the real Palin was aghast at Tina Fey’s portrayal she must be catatonic at watching Julieanne Moore in HBO’s telemovie, Game Change. Moore is simply a knockout.
She has the inflections down to a tee, hitting every word with the same intonation as Palin did in her speeches and interviews. She’s a freak of nature.
Game Change is based on the book of the same name by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. It begins with John McCain (Ed Harris) recruiting a reluctant campaign strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) to his bid for the White House.
McCain is being whipped in the polls by Barack Obama and needs something radical to win over voters, especially the female vote. Enter the charismatic Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin who has the runs on the board in her home state.
Schmidt and his team grill her suitability for the role in an intense few days before the Republican National Convention, and Palin offers her allegiance. On the plus side she proves to be a great performer, with a son fighting in Iraq and her raising a child with special needs. On the flipside, she has a pregnant teenage daughter, a ‘Troopergate’ scandal in Alaska -and limited knowledge of world events. In fact Schmidt fails to test her properly on global issues which leads to disastrous interviews.
Palin falls short of knowledge on World War II, British politics, geography and economics. TV Interviews lead to hilarious lines such as “You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska” helping her to become a pop culture headline, a viral sensation.
In Game Change the McCain team lose control of this most ambitious candidate, as she makes demands, becomes frustrated by their very short leash on her and embraces the media spotlight and enthusiastic crowd. When pushed to perform, she nevertheless turns on punchy, charismatic performances.
“They say the difference between a pit-bull and a Hockey Mom? Lipstick,” she tells one crowd.
The film perfectly references modern technology’s role in the election. People are snapping photos of Palin on their phones, there is Saturday Night Live, Katie Couric and Anderson Cooper. 2008 becomes the YouTube election and America gets the politics it deserves.
As the behind the scenes turmoil spirals out of control, it is Harrelson who emerges as the leading man in this telemovie. He is terrific, as Schmidt delicately tries to keep Palin happy whilst still retaining control. Ed Harris actually merges into the background as McCain is overshadowed by Palin.
But it is Julieanne Moore who is dazzling as the leading lady. They might as well engrave her name on an Emmy right now.
Game Change lives up to its title. A deeply satisfying political biopic that is as good as Primary Colours and its contemporaries.
Don’t miss it.
Game Change airs 8:30pm Saturday on Showcase.