fbpx
"You Suck, Dick! Love, Deep Throat": 'Dick' at 20, and the Bygone Age of Strong Political Satire

“You Suck, Dick! Love, Deep Throat”: ‘Dick’ at 20, and the Bygone Age of Strong Political Satire

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Dick, a beautifully sharp satire of the Watergate scandal. The film arrived in August of 1999 (25 years after Nixon’s resignation) and was full of in-jokes aimed at boomers who had lived through the Watergate scandal and knew its details backwards and forwards, mostly from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s books, the All The President’s Men movie, and Oliver Stone’s Nixon, which had arrived just four years earlier.

The genius of Dick‘s script, credited to director Andrew Fleming and his co-writer Sheryl Longin was that it filled what were then the mysteries of Watergate, from the identity of Deep Throat to the story behind the 18 1/2 minute gap.

The film arrived in August of 1999 (25 years after Nixon’s resignation) and was full of in-jokes aimed at boomers who had lived through the Watergate scandal…

In the film, a pair of 15-year-old girls (played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) live in the Watergate complex, and through a series of misunderstandings, are invited to become the official dog walkers for Checkers, the dog belonging to President Nixon (Dan Hedaya).

Their interactions with Nixon, Forrest Gump-like, help lead to a wide variety of world historical events between 1972 and 1974. They feed Nixon pot brownies, leading him to enter into peace talks to end the Vietnam War. They accidentally convince John Dean to resign and cooperate against Nixon. And then they become “Deep Throat,” a fact that stayed a secret for decades because Woodward and Bernstein (Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch) were too embarrassed to tell anyone about it.

No X in Nixon

The movie is funny on its own merits, while also full of hilarious in-jokes for people who know every detail of Watergate. Dan Hedaya is one of the better movie Nixons, up there with Philip Baker Hall and Anthony Hopkins, and the cast is chockful of veterans of The Kids in the Hall in mid-’90s-era Saturday Night Live. And watch for a young Ryan Reynolds, as Haldeman’s teenaged son.

It’s hard to top the ending of All The President’s Men, but Dick somehow matches it:

Today’s Dick

As you may have noticed, there hasn’t been the equivalent of a movie like Dick recently. It’s not exactly a golden time for political satire, especially at the movies.

A lot of people believed that the Trump era would be a strong time for comedy, but it really hasn’t worked out that way, as every once-formidable major comedy organ from Saturday Night Live to The Onion to The Daily Show has utterly failed to contend with the Trump era.

A lot of people believed that the Trump era would be a strong time for comedy, but it really hasn’t worked out that way…

The major Trump-era comedy touchstones, it appears, are Alec Baldwin’s weak-tea Trump impression and late-night hosts who have turned to “clapter” – liberal platitudes that may earn audience applause, but certainly not laughs.

Adam McKay, the longtime writing partner of Will Ferrell (who played Bob Woodward in Dick), not only has pivoted from comedy to earnest political films, but made a movie last year not about the Trump Administration but rather Dick Cheney.

There’s some funny stuff at the margins, like James Adomian’s impression of Sebastian Gorka, and while the Showtime cartoon Our Cartoon President does occasional decent material, its Trump character is a dud at all times. Even Sacha Baron Cohen’s Who is America? drew most of its brilliant humor out of its Israeli colonel character; the more Trump-adjacent parts of the show were much less successful.

Why has comedy struggled with Trump so much? I return to Patton Oswalt’s analogy:

“Imagine there’s a guy out on the sidewalk, and he’s just taking a dump on the pavement, and he’s yelling about Hitler, and he’s hanging wallpaper. So you think of the funniest joke about a guy taking a dump on the sidewalk, and you turn to tell your friend. And as you turn to tell your friend, behind you, he has scooped up his poop and made a sombrero out of it.”

A 21st Century Dick?

Will we get better satire about Trump at some point in the future? It’s certainly possible. Dick, after all, came out a quarter century after Nixon’s fall. In the meantime, I would love to see an In the Loop-style treatment of the Trump Administration, or one that finds a strange, side-entrance into mockery of the current White House.

But a Trump satire along the lines of Dick? It’s just hard to imagine it working. America is so fragmented, with “shared memory” essentially a thing of the past, that it’s hard to imagine lightning striking twice in such a way.


Advertisements

We are, as simply as we can put it, a creative entity that strives to curate, cultivate, and create content covering culture and the people that shape it.

More Stories
Led Zeppelin is headed back to court over the copyrights to their best known song | News | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS
Led Zeppelin is headed back to court over the copyrights to their best known song

Subscribe

Don't miss out on weekly new content or exclusive deals