A Fine Romance Friday: Dave

Leading up to the release of my contemporary political romance novel, Special Interests (which will be out on Monday!), I want to use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. Today’s selection is Dave.

Ivan Reitman’s 1993 romantic comedy is cinematic wish fulfillment–for who amongst us has not watched the political process and said, “I could do better than that”? And in tonight’s fine romance, Dave Kovic gets his shot.

The premise: non-profit director and all around good guy Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) bears a striking resemblance to the sitting president, Bill Mitchell (also Kevin Kline). So much so that when Mitchell wants to conduct a sordid affair, the Secret Service enlists Kovic to help cover it up by making a public appearance in place of the president. But when Mitchell suffers a stroke during said affair, his staff (Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn) decide to use Dave as a puppet in order to enact their own agenda.

This set up bears more than surpassing resemblance to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, as in that film, Dave just won’t stick to the script: he keeps having warm, funny interactions with people, he gets an accountant friend to help him “fix” the federal budget, and he falls for the first lady (Sigourney Weaver).

I find it more than a little sad that most of the older film and television representations of American politics are hopeful (Mr. Smith, The American President, Dave, The West Wing): while some people act in bad faith in all of these cases, the overarching message is that good things can happen in government. Newer representations (Scandal, House of Cards, Veep) seem much more skeptical. (And some older versions are as well, see Advise and Consent or All the King’s Men.) It’s a small sample size, so I don’t want to draw too many conclusions, but I don’t think we’re nearly as hopeful today about politics as we were when Dave was produced.

Skepticism and idealism come and go. I’ve written before about trying to balance a realistic take on the system with one that doesn’t make us feel disempowered. But the well-earned contempt that Americans have for their government makes me sad.

But I digress!

Dave is a funny, clever film and a hopeful, sweet romance–and you can’t really wish for more than that.

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