Thursday, April 6, 2023

Happy Birthday, James Garner!

For this year’s tribute to James Garner, I’ve drawn Jim alongside Jack Lemmon in their roles as two former U.S. presidents in the 1996 comedy, My Fellow Americans. Interestingly, the film had originally been planned as another vehicle to reunite Jack Lemmon with his frequent co-star, Walter Matthau, but Walter had to bow out of the project due to an illness at the time. So Jim was brought in as a replacement and it may have worked out for the better, as the two portrayals seem slyly based on President George Bush Sr. (Jack’s cranky Russell Kramer) and then sitting President Bill Clinton (Jim’s suave Matt Douglas). Though older now, Jim Garner was still a rakishly handsome man, so much of the humour was based on the purported womanizing ways of Clinton, something that Matthau may not have been so successful in pulling off.

My Fellow Americans is a decent comedy, though admittedly was not a hit with the critics. I won’t go into any detail on the plot, suffice to say that both former presidents are thrown together in an attempt to clear their names on a big political frame-up, ending up on the run from sinister Deep State figures that are trying to silence them, but there’s a great comedic onscreen chemistry between these old pros, Garner and Lemmon, and they’re a lot of fun to watch! What I personally appreciate is the evenhandedness in how both the Republican (Lemmon) and Democrat (Garner) are satirized. They are both petty and flawed individuals, having spent decades in the ruthless game of partisan politics, but as the story progresses we are also shown the poignant and human side of both these men. As they are on the run for their lives through the rural landscape, they are aided along the way by good, decent, ordinary Americans, voters of both political stripes, but when hearing their stories the two former presidents also come to realize just how out of touch they both were with average Americans’ needs and concerns, which shames them into realizing just how poorly they’d served them while in office. Frankly, I don’t think this film could be made this fairly today, as the Hollywood film industry has lost whatever political balance and impartiality it used to have, and I suspect would give in to the temptation to make it a hatchet job on the Republican while playing the Democrat as a virtuous hero. As it is, I’m glad that My Fellow Americans is so evenhanded with its satirical comment and allows the humanity of both men to shine through by the end of the film. We could use more of that type of goodwill in our entertainment today.

Here is the trailer for those who might be interested in seeing the film: