Mitt Romney’s lumbering, stumbling presidential campaign looks a lot more fun when viewed through the prism of O Brother, Where Art Thou? – reputedly the candidate’s all-time favourite film.
Simply hit the fast-forward button and add a bluegrass score, and hey presto – that dreary round of stage-managed photo ops and exhausted stump speeches is transformed into a freewheeling picaresque in which the eye-waggling billionaire bounds merrily through the swing states, up to his necktie in all manner of mischief. Tremble as Mighty Mitt finds himself seduced by a trio of sexy sirens. Marvel as he foils the Ku Klux Klan and tumbles ass-backwards into pop stardom as the lead singer of the Soggy Bottom Boys. Thrill, finally, to his new campaign slogan, lifted from George Clooney’s movie catchphrase and perfectly capturing the mood of the Republican faithful this election year: “Damn! We’re in a tight spot!”
Now obviously, when a man like Mitt Romney owns up to his favourite anything (film, book, sexual position), the revelation tends to say more about the perceived taste of the electorate than it does about the candidate himself. In this case, the message is charmingly transparent. You thought Romney was a dull, cold-blooded technocrat? Perish the thought. There’s nothing he likes better than the goof-ball antics of those wacky Coen dudes. (Incidentally, the US comic Rob Delaney has tweeted that Romney says “Ha ha ha! Terrific!” every time Jar Jar Binks appears on screen. It’s not hard to imagine him delivering a similar verdict each time George Clooney starts fussing with his hairnet.
That aside, Romney deserves credit for at least naming a film and sticking by it. His opponent, by contrast, segments his vote between Casablanca, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Pound for pound, every one is a better movie than O Brother (a flurry of jubilant set-pieces as opposed to a joined-up story). And yet there’s something curiously dispiriting about seeing Obama’s favoured titles listed for the masses like a series of leather-bound classics displayed on a shelf. On balance I like Romney’s choice better. It’s the perfect comic template for the perfect comic candidate, a man bouncing through the new American Depression, blithely writing off 47% of the electorate and seemingly pointed towards disaster. “Ha ha ha! Terrific!,” barks Romney as his tight spot turns tighter still.
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