A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that First Lady is part political drama, part romantic comedy, and part Prince and the Pauper-style fairy tale. It centers on a first lady of the United States (Nancy Stafford) who's widowed toward the end of her husband's presidency in a tearful hospital-set sequence. She's then convinced to stay on as the newly appointed president's "running mate." The movie at first seems like it's not about politics -- it doesn't mention existing political parties -- but it eventually becomes overtly ultra-conservative, to the point of claiming that those who protest the U.S. government's policies are paid to do so. The "paid protesters" is a much debunked far-right talking point, but it's a major plot point of the movie. There's also some mild insult language ("stupid," "old," "dumb"), wine drinking by adults, flirting, and a couple of kisses.
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What's the story?
FIRST LADY is part political dramedy, part fairy tale, and part love story. It follows beloved U.S. first lady Kathryn Morales (Nancy Stafford). As the movie opens, she prepares for an official dinner, handles news that a political opponent's vapid wife, Mallory Carrington (Tanya Christiansen), is making inflammatory public statements, and leads tours of the White House. But when tragedy strikes and her husband, President Alex Morales (Joel King), dies unexpectedly, Kathryn vows to uphold his dying wish that she support young Vice President Taylor Brooks' (Benjamin Dane) transition into the presidency by staying on his first lady (he's a widower). But as Kate struggles with being a first lady in name only, she unknowingly becomes reacquainted with an old love: the king of a fictional European country (Corbin Bernsen) who pretends to be a visiting diplomatic bodyguard in order to stay close to his adolescent crush.
Is it any good?
Although political parties are never mentioned in writer-director Nina May's forgettable dramedy, its far-right themes ultimately overwhelm the story. That said, it's unclear to whom First Lady is targeted, given its swings between the overtly political "save the dignity of the White House from paid protesters" storyline and the Princess Diaries-meets-Prince and the Pauper subplot. You see, Kathryn's office agrees to house a fictional European princess and her personal bodyguard (Corbin Bernsen), who's actually the princess's grandfather and king of said fake country. Decades earlier, King Max (another widower) pretended not to be the prince in order to hang out with then college-aged Kate, the daughter of a high-ranking diplomat. The problem with all of this is that the movie's production design is so poor that audiences will spot the vinyl stickers used as presidential seals and the various ways cheap sets are supposed to be the West Wing.
Aside from Stafford, who takes her role seriously, the acting is mostly phoned in (Bernsen's accent is cringeworthy, and most of the administration staff don't come across as professional actors). There are also way too many plot lines. In addition to Kate and Max's will-they-or-won't-they romance, the new president -- who also has a conveniently dead spouse -- gets his own blossoming relationship with a government employee whom Kathryn objects to because she's friends with her rival from across the aisle. Then there's the movie's most ludicrous of stories: the one about "professional protesters" being paid to chant outside the White House. This is straight out of the often debunked fringe-right media narrative that young political protesters are paid by liberal billionaires. The fact that this is such a prominent theme of First Lady makes it clear that the filmmakers want audiences to believe it's true (a brief internet search around May confirms this). This isn't a director making a movie so much as producing propaganda.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the political messages in First Lady. Do they have a particular agenda? How can you tell that the filmmakers are aligned with a political philosophy, even though real political parties are never mentioned?
The first lady keeps talking about the "dignity of the office." Which real-life first lady or ladies do you think memorably filled the office with dignity? Why do you think they were good first ladies?
Is this a believable story? What about it is realistic? What isn't? What do you think about the ending?
- In theaters: February 14, 2020
- On DVD or streaming: December 1, 2020
- Cast: Nancy Stafford, Corbin Bernsen, Stacey Dash
- Director: Nina May
- Studio: ArtAffects Entertainment
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Friendship
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements
- Last updated: February 2, 2021
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