Are y’all feeling a little patriotic after this July 4th? Are you exhausted by think pieces about what it means and doesn’t mean to fly or not fly the flag in this fractious moment? Regardless, The Bigger Picture is here with a movie that’s a uniter, not a divider. Dave (HBO Max) will leave you and yours doing slo-mo waves while booming “God bless America!” to one another.
For the uninitiated, here’s the gist: Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) is a sparkly regular guy who runs a temp agency but has more fun moonlighting as a presidential impersonator. When the actual president, Bill Mitchell, falls into a coma, his lackeys tap Dave, who looks identical to POTUS, to fill his seat at the Resolute Desk. Without spoiling anything, Dave not only looks the presidential part but settles into it with more humanity and chutzpah than anyone who’s ever run for the office ever could. That’s the fairy tale: What if a normal, decent person actually ran our country? The answer earns almost every one of its 110 minutes.
Dave is a big-hearted comedy packed with light-touch civics lessons for kids and layers of in-jokes and cameos for adults, especially those of us who count The War Room (also released in 1993) as a formative piece of culture. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the movie scored Gary Ross an Oscar nomination for best screenplay, and rightly so (though he lost to Jane Campion’s script for my mom’s all-time favorite movie, The Piano). Kevin Kline looks like he’s having so much fun in the role(s) that every moment is a blast for viewers, too. The supporting cast includes Sigourney Weaver as jaded First Lady Ellen Mitchell, Frank Langella as the president’s menacing chief of staff, Kevin Dunn presaging his Veep character as a communications director who discovers his conscious, and Laura Linney as a White House aide having a rip-roaring affair with President Mitchell.
Record scratch! Yes, what sends President Mitchell into a coma is a moany (played for laughs) roll in the hay with Randi, Linney’s first-ever film part with an actual name (and what a name it is!). Although for adult viewers the illicit relationship contributes to the Mitchell character and also to the stew of grievances boiling inside wife (and adds a certain richness to the fact that Bill Clinton gave this movie a thumbs-up upon its release!!), the scene itself is brief and an easy skip: Fast-forward from 15:30 to 16:25 et voila! Without the bedroom hijinks, Randi’s minimal part reads as simply overeager, and the movie provides many other, child-friendly moments that show what an unsavory guy the real commander in chief is.
Once Dave gets into the presidential groove, he wins over the First Lady, enlists a bratwurst-loving accountant buddy (TBP hall of famer Charles Grodin) to cut the federal budget by a casual $650 million, helps the homeless, wrestles the dogs on the White House lawn, and throws a cracker-jack first pitch at a baseball game. Famous faces pop up at every turn: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Anna Deavere Smith, Ben Kingsley, Bonnie Hunt (as a White House tour guide who has to some of us become iconic: We’re walking, we’re walking…), and a slew of real-life politicos and media personalities who play themselves. Of course, as Dave is out charming America, some sinister rubber-stamping (Langella literally wields a rubber stamp) is taking place behind the Oval Office doors, threatening Dave’s efforts to help Americans. How will our fake president save the day?! With all the sincerity he can muster.