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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this comedy has a young protagonist and could serve as an entertaining -- if superficial -- introduction to the political process, most kids probably won't be that interested. Maybe just as well, since the central character is a booze-guzzling loser who's downright neglectful of his 12-year-old daughter, especially in the beginning of the movie. There's also an allusion to drug use, lots of strong language ("s--t" and the like), and some stereotypes.
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What's the story?
Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner) won't win Father of the Year anytime soon. He's a boozing loser who sneaks liquor on the job and can't even be counted on to drive his 12-year-old daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), to school on time. But he loves her, so when his civic-minded daughter pleads for him to finally exercise his right to vote in a hotly contested presidential election, he promises to meet her at their small-town New Mexico polling station. But he doesn't quite make it, so Molly takes it upon herself to do it for him. One problem: An unforeseen snag prevents her from completing the ballot, holding up the election and leaving Bud to re-cast his vote -- which turns out to be a lot more significant than he or Molly could have imagined.
Is it any good?
Like many candidates running for office, SWING VOTE has plenty of good intentions but fails to deliver on its significant promise. It relies too easily on stereotypes -- the steely Republicans, the fuzzy Democrats -- to make its points and misses the opportunity to dig deep into the American voter's confused, apathetic psyche. Still, it is a comedy, so perhaps it shouldn't be faulted for failing to do more than skim the surface. ... But, then again, other movies -- Bob Roberts, Dave, Election -- have satirized the political process with a modicum of success, so why can't Swing Vote?
But it does try, and some elements are entertaining. Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane are superb as political operatives; the main conceit -- that the election ends up hinging on Bud's vote -- is wicked fun; and certain scenes are genius, as when both parties end up contorting themselves to win Bud's vote. Paula Patton has an ease about her that serves her well as Kate Madison, a TV journalist with a soul. Costner is decent overall, though the film could have done with less of his hamming, at least in the beginning. But Carroll is the true find. Molly is the heart of the film, and her relationship with Bud is what ultimately makes Swing Vote work. Even the outcome of a hotly contested presidential election doesn't compare to a father finally realizing that he's running the race of his life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Bud's drinking affects his life and his role as a dad. What are the real-life consequences of drinking too much? Families can also discuss the political process. Is the movie's premise -- that every vote matters -- true, or is there some validity to Bud's pronouncement that votes don't count? What's behind the apathy that many Americans feel toward elections in general? How does the media impact people's impression of the political process and their feelings about voting