It sounds implausible and impossible—that a man’s accidental flub-up in the voting booth causes his vote to stall the election and coincidentally determine the next U.S. President. But Swing Vote has a great time using that as a platform to tell a really cool tale.
Besides, the movie wants to move past that impossibility anyway (suspension of disbelief, right?), and into the fun stuff. Swing Vote isn’t necessarily about the likelihood of the above-mentioned phenomenon occurring; it’s about bigger things, things like the nature of freedom in America, the right to vote, politicians and their campaigns, and various issues that unite and divide America as a nation.
Ernest “Bud” Johnson (Kevin Costner) is a beer-drinking, blue-collar simpleton whose wife left both him and his daughter, Molly, for a Nashville singing career. Molly (Madeline Carroll), a precocious little girl who is passionate about politics and the preservation of her country, and unfortunately for her, Bud couldn’t care less, even if her were sober. Molly seems to be the parent in the relationship, taking care of Bud’s daily hangovers and prodding him to get up for work.
Molly is in constant frustration with her father’s apathy toward life and her interests, and is perturbed when Bud seemingly sets in motion an ironic, history-making turn of events where his vote actually ends up being the deciding factor in the election. This forces the Presidential candidates to campaign only to win Bud’s vote. Along the way we are treated to a satirical look at the lengths campaign managers and the candidates will go simply to get a vote.
How this plays out is both hilarious and sobering, as well as inspiring and totally enjoyable—thanks to some good storytelling and direction, as well as an excellent cast of talented actors who make this movie shine. The brightest stars on the screen, however, are Kevin Costner and Madeline Carroll as Bud and Molly. Costner has found a perfect role in the dimwitted Bud, and Carroll as Molly is a brilliant young actor whose performance almost brought me to tears at one point.
Like I mentioned before, though, Swing Vote is not a simple “voting is your civic duty” story. While the importance of voting is emphasized as both a privilege and a blessing in a great country, Swing Vote goes over the issues that affect daily life in America, and through the story reminds us how we can take some sort of action to better that life.
However, Swing Vote is careful not to play too much on the emotional arguments regarding various issues like abortion, immigration and gay marriage, making the movie all the more charming. There are a few emotionally charged scenes in the movie that give weight to the hilarity throughout, but within the context of the film, the story never speaks in self-righteousness.
At one point, Molly makes a simple yet convicting commentary about how much she appreciates her father at a “Bring Your Father to School” Day. Without giving too much away, Molly’s emotional message about her father is a hopeful and heart-wrenching commentary about the beauty and freedom of America, along with the tragic complacency and apathy of its people.
And rather than going down the typical Hollywood route and picking a more liberal stance, Swing Vote instead manages to poke fun at everyone on both “sides” of various issues. It carefully gives respect to all Americans, while pointing out absurdities in America’s political process. Although the mockery is at times absolutely hilarious, the film’s humor never ventures into the vile and mean-spirited. There is purpose behind all the fun, and it is carefully crafted into the story, with the goal of giving a message of hope and focusing on the (hopefully) common goal of compassion, care, peace, and freedom to all people (to all Americans, anyway).
In that sense, Swing Vote could almost be seen as patriotic (even the movie’s production design seems to have red, white, and blue hues throughout). There are many inspiring moments that make you think, “Wow, America is a great country,” and “Shame on me for taking my freedom for granted.” Okay, well, that’s a little simplistic; but you’ll understand what I mean: Swing Vote is an American story with a clear and powerful message.
It may be convicting in its truthful satire and simple wit, but it is also encouraging in that it promotes the hope that we can make a better country by actively changing (ourselves and our country) and refusing to passively observe our nation’s future unfold… not only for us, but for generations to come.