Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Directed by Andrew Fleming
Written by Andrew Fleming and Sheryl Longin
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, Bruce McCollough, Terri Garr, Dave Foley, Harry Shearer
IMDB Entry

There's a particular unnamed genre that I'm quite fond of.  Not alternate history, but alternate explanations for actual history. It's fun to come up with with a plausible story that fits closely to the facts (one reason conspiracy theories are so popular -- it's the same game).

One of my favorite in this sort-of-genre is Dick.

Arlene & Betsy It is about the Watergate scandal. Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) are to helium headed teenagers who just happen to live in the Watergate. When rushing out to mail a letter to the "Meet a Date with Bobby Sherman" contest, the run into a strange man in the stairwell.  Later, at a White House tour, they see him again:  G. Gordon Liddy (the always great and always underrated Harry Shearer).  Liddy takes them to President Nixon (Dan Hedaya), who charms them and, to buy them off and keep an eye on them, tells them that they are now his official dog walkers.

It then starts to get even funnier.  One my favorite moments is when Arlene -- now with a mad crush on Nixon -- takes Rosemary Wood's tape recorder and records a confession of true love to him.  For 18 1/2 minutes.*

The movie plays out in this vein. The Watergate scandal mysteries are all explained (like the identity of Deep Throat) in ways that are always both logical, surprising and very funny.

Dan Hedaya IS Dick Dunst and Williams are great as the clueless teens who bring down the president, but the real bravura performance is that by Dan Hedaya.  Hedaya is a busy actor in character roles (his best known one was as Carla's husband in Cheers and its spin-off TheTortellis). This is one of his few major roles, and he makes the most of the chance.  His Nixon is almost as clueless as the girls, but with a sinister edge.

The film flopped at the box office.  Maybe the concept was too esoteric, or the combination of highbrow and lowbrow (much is made of the word "Dick") not appealing to either group.  In addition, if you didn't know the history, you'd miss a lot of the jokes.

Director Fleming (who had created some interest with The Craft) has worked sporadically.  His best known film was the pointless remake of The In-Laws.

Most of the other actors, though, did fine. Williams is working steadily and Dunst went on to film icon status by kissing Spider-Man.

But if you know anything about Watergate, the film is the second-best made on the subject (after All the President's Men)

*If you're familiar with Watergate -- I lived through it -- that number is hilariously significant.

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