I’m a big fan of comedies. If a movie makes me laugh, I appreciate it even if the overall picture is dumb or in bad taste. But when a comedy is not only funny but smart and original, no doubt it’s even better. “Dick” for instance has a very interesting concept. You could say it’s a cross between “Clueless” and “Nixon”. It stars Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst as Arlene Lorenzo and Betsy Jobs, an inseparable pair of airhead 15 year old girls who spend their days giggling and obsessing about make-up. And then one day of 1972, as they hang around Arlene and her mom’s suite in the Watergate Hotel, they stumble across a mysterious man (Harry Shearer) and unwittingly cause the cops to discover a group of men illegally snooping into the Democrat headquarters. Through more strange coincidences, the two groovy chicks become the official walkers of Checkers, the dog of none other than Richard “Dick” Nixon (Dan Hedaya, surprisingly effective as the former President). And so the movie cleverly interweaves reality and fiction, as Arlene and Betsy wreak havoc in and out the White House.
“Dick” was written and directed by Andrew Fleming, who has a lot of fun giving new spins on the most notable events of the Nixon era. It’s very amusing to see how the movie supposes hash cookies, the drafting of Betsy’s slacker brother and Arlene’s crush on the President might have led to the Peace Accord with Russia, the end of the Vietnam war and the 18 and a half gap on Nixon’s audio tapes. We also get to see famous moments like the “I am not a crook” speech, and Nixon’s eventual admission to having commanded and the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent cover-up. All this is made into a wildly entertaing comedy thanks to Fleming’s inventive and dynamic direction and a great 70s soundtrack (I especially liked the use of Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People” and Barry White’s “Love Theme”). The filmmakers had another brainchild when they decided to cast a bunch of affordable but gifted comedians and character actors who are able to turn small parts into comic gold. There’s Dave Foley as the presidential chief of staff, Saul Rubinek as national security advisor Henry Kissinger, French Stewart as a TV interviewer, Jim Breuer as Nixon’s lawyer, Ana Gastayer as his secretary and Ryan Reynolds as a drunken teenage horndog. I especially enjoyed Bruce McCulloch and the always hilarious Will Ferrell as Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post journalists who broke the Watergate story.
And then there’s Williams and Dunst, two talented young actresses who must have been happy to find such wonderful material. Their characters might be dimwitted babes, but the movie avoids turning them into caricatures. After all, they’re just young fun-loving girls with so much to learn, and they do have good will and some resourcefulness. Like “Clueless” and “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” before it, “Dick” takes these dumb blondes and turn them into real people with feelings and all. I think it’s that kind of sensibility which make some comedies rise above the more mean-spirited ones. “Dick” is as funny as any “Big Daddy” or “American Pie”, and it’s much more original and clever.