Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday morning. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?” can be found at the end of this post.)
This week’s question: What director, living or dead, would you choose to direct a film about the 2016 election cycle, and what might their film be like?
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelancer for Rolling Stone, The Verge, Vulture
Of course someone’s going to eventually make a movie about the surreal national night-terror that is this election process, but man, it’s going to be weird. Between three and five previously unthinkable things have happened every week, to the point where observers will jest (usually in between heaving sobs and hearty swigs of brown liquor) that this all feels like a funhouse-mirror parody of American politics. Who do you call, then, to adapt reality when factual events have played out like an overwritten screenplay?
Alexander Payne would seem like a no-brainer, but I believe the opposite to be true; the man specializes in elevating the everyday to ridiculous extremes, and trying to comically exaggerate Donald “Baby Hitler But An Adult Version” Trump is an exercise in obscene redundancy, the satirist’s equivalent of going home to personally deep-fry the KFC Double Down you just purchased. Well-schooled in the topics of despair, degradation, and decay, Werner Herzog could probably also do a bangup job with this morass of amoral excess. But again, that seems like a little much — we all know full well how soul-suckingly ugly this election has been, and hearing it in a funny-sounding German accent won’t add much.
The ideal dramatization of the Clinton/Trump campaign should be a work of expressionism, communicating the feeling of the past few months, even if that means diverging from hard facts. Merely showing Trump harassing Gold Star parents or mocking a disabled reporter or using the word “pussy” or crowing about predicting foreign terror attacks or- (lord in heaven, who allowed this plague-carrying vermin to get this far?) won’t be sufficient. We’ve got to be placed right there in the insanity. So let’s all take a deep breath, call a hard “fuck it,” and hand the reins over to Alejandro Jodorowsky, reigning king of the lunatics. He uses fantastical imagery to tell stories both political and intimately personal, leaving our dimension when that’s what it takes to capture titanic feeling. Who better to reveal the tangled ball of desiccated worms wriggling behind the national psyche? Imagine it: Trump takes the podium to make a speech, and instead of flapping his receding gums about losers or whatever, he swallows a living bird and begins belching fire! Hillary speaks only in perfect rhyming verse! Melania’s portrayed by a stump-legged dwarf carny! It’d be so bizarre, it’d eventually turn inward on itself and make perfect sense.
My mom says Ken Russell. Now that I think about it, that might be a better answer.
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
The hate-filled discourse and hate-filled actions of the Republican Party and its candidate whose unspeakable name enters history with ignominy leave the country needing something like de-Nazification. Roberto Rossellini is the filmmaker who best showed the insidious power of racist and fascist ideologies and their predatory endurance. Whatever happens Tuesday, this is “America Year Zero.”
Erik Davis, Fandango/Movies.com (@erikdavis)
David Fincher would no doubt direct a meticulously crafted seedy drama that we’d all watch the hell out of and it’d be nominated for lots of Oscars, but I’m not sure if Fincher would lean into the humor as much. Maybe someone like Adam McKay, who did a great job balancing the real-life drama, comedy and absurdity in “The Big Short,” could do the same here. Maybe even throw “The People v O.J. Simpson” creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski into the mix, too. The best movie (or limited series) is going to be one that’s fast paced, quick-witted and informative. Something that embraces the drama and the sadness just as much as it does the incredibly amusing moments this election has delivered over the past several months.
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
This unprecedentedly demented election has simply been too insane to be condensed into a coherent movie in the style of “Recount” or “Game Change” — I think the only way to capture the craziness would be to fracture it into bite-sized pieces in the hopes that one of them might serve as a helpful synecdoche for the sheer lunacy that has paralyzed this country for the last 18 months. With that in mind, I’m going to flagrantly steal an idea from “Vanity Fair” editor Katey Rich, because it was brilliant and I could never come up with a better one: A Sofia Coppola movie about the private life of Melania Trump. I can see it now, the would-be First Lady locked away in Trump Tower, looking onto the streets of a city that hates her family as Brian Eno’s “By This River” mopes away on the soundtrack. Okay, so it’s pretty much just “Marie Antoinette” all over again, but let’s not act like that’s a bad thing.
Eric Kohn (@erickohn), IndieWire
David Cronenberg could make a helluva body horror movie out of the grotesque gender relations issues that have defined this campaign. We no longer have Mike Nichols, alas, but this season has essentially become a prolonged sequel to his great “Primary Colors.” But the best person to handle this project is probably David Fincher, a modern master of suspense ideally suited to capture the unsettling nature of these past few days.
Tomris Laffly (@TomiLaffly), Film Journal International, Film School Rejects
First of all, what kind of a sick question is this? WHY would I (or anyone) ever want to relive this election cycle by watching a film about it?
But let’s see… If Clinton wins (and hopefully that will be the case), I’d like a “Definitely, Maybe”-style rom-com directed by Nancy Meyers, but this time with a female lead please (and not, you know, Ryan Reynolds.) I’m thinking a similar story –two young people meet cute while working on the HRC campaign. Perhaps Tessa Thompson can play the lead?
If Trump wins, Cristian Mungiu should direct a film titled “16 months, 3 weeks, 2 days”… On election day, that’s precisely how long it will have been since Trump officially announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. I am not sure what kind of a movie that would be. A grim cautionary tale perhaps, with lots of long takes of Trump…
(I want to reiterate though: I hope no one ever makes a movie about this nightmarish election cycle.)
Christopher Rosen (@chrisjrosen), Entertainment Weekly
Roland Emmerich. It would be 90 minutes of mushroom clouds.
Mike Ryan (@mikeryan), Uproxx
Dennis Dugan. Running at 215 minutes, it will star Adam Sandler as both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And it will be hailed by future generations as the only thing just as excruciating as this actual election.