Making the Grades
If there was ever an antidote for voter apathy in America (or anywhere in the free world), it might be Bud Johnson (Kevin Costner). The employment-challenged, single father guzzles liquor as frequently as he spews out swear words. A truly dispassionate slacker, he subsists in a ramshackle trailer park in the inconsequential town of Texico, New Mexico, with his daughter Molly (Madeline Carroll).
Taking on the role of the adult in their relationship, the bright and socially conscious 12-year-old maintains whatever shred of family life there is. Motivated by her teacher's (Mary Sue Evans) discussion of Americans' civic responsibility to vote, she registers her dad for the upcoming presidential election and prods him to fulfill his part of the social contract.
However, as the polls close and the tickets are counted, the race between the Republican incumbent, Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer) and Democratic hopeful, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper) is too close to call. In an unprecedented outcome (hearkening back to irregularities in the 2000 US election), the final result eventually rests on one spoiled ballot---that of Bud Johnson's. Given 10 days to recast his vote and decide the next president of the United States, the relative nobody suddenly finds himself at the center of the media's attention. For a week and a half, he is courted relentlessly by the political candidates and their entourages that descend on the small desert town like a plague of locusts.
While the magnitude of his decision remains well outside of Bud's realm of consciousness, Molly is overwrought by the immensity of the choice her civically irresponsible father has to make. Pouring over thousands of letters from beleaguered blue-collar Americans who see Bud as their voice in the political arena, she agonizes over his imminent selection. Meanwhile, her father throws footballs with government bodyguards and chugs beer with the country's top aspirants.
Like a carefully assembled political team, the cast in this film sports a number of well-developed secondary characters and a range of multicultural persons. Kate (Paula Patton) is a local reporter who breaks the story about the source of the spoiled ballot. Lewis (Charles Esten) is the Secret Services officer who becomes more than a passive poster boy for security in Molly's troubled young life. Even the presidential candidates portray private moments of misgivings while watching their platforms and positions wildly modified by their campaign managers (Nathan Lane, Stanley Tucci) to fit the one-man audience.
Politically correct or not, the script is peppered with cuss words and profanities (although Molly and Kate remind Bud more than once to watch his language). The negative consequences of Bud's drinking habit are also amplified by his impaired ability to parent and his attempts to drive while drunk.
Yet, all that hoopla aside, the film packs a powerful political statement, especially in an electoral year when the 2008 presidential run-off is beginning to peak. Lobbying for civic involvement from all sectors of the electorate, Swing Vote is a call to arms, a plea to the American public to exercise their right to vote or suffer the consequences of their apathy.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Swing Vote.
Although this film explores the American elections, how is it applicable to voters in other parts of the free world? What are a citizen’s civic responsibilities? What is a social contract?
What changes Bud’s belief about the value of one vote? Why do many people feel marginalized in their own country? Is it possible for politicians to meet the needs of all their constituents?
What impact does the flippant policy change have on the presidential candidates in this film? Who are the antagonists in the story?
Kate has her home office wall plastered with pictures of famous female newscasters. Can visual reminders of a person’s goal influence the ability to achieve it? What pictures would you post on your wall? What does Kate learn about the dark side of newsgathering?