Political Film Review #49

Who was the “deep throat” who informed Washington Post reporters the secrets about Watergate? Who caused the 18½ minute gap in President Richard Nixon’s tapes? Since nobody in Washington is likely to divulge the answers any time soon, the puzzles are fair game for Hollywood. This is the context for the low-brow farcical film Dick, directed by Andrew Fleming, in which the answers to both questions are two fifteen-year-old airheads with Valley Girl accents attending a high school in the Beltway. After accidentally running into G. Gordon Liddy (played by Larry Shearer) in a stairwell during the Watergate break-in, Betsy Jobs (played by Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (played by Michelle Williams) go with their class on a White House tour, where they are spotted by presidential aides and are escorted into the inner sanctum of the White House in order to debrief them on what they might know about the break-in. Checkers, from an office across the way, bolts from President Richard Nixon and runs toward them, driven by an animal’s keen sense of good and evil, and then Nixon (played by Dan Hedaya) follows the wagging dog. Fearing that they may know too much, the most powerful man in the world tries to buy them off by assigning them as “official White House dog walkers” and later as “secret youth advisers.” One day, while in the White House to assume their new duties, they ask Nixon to end the war in Vietnam, and shortly thereafter he does! They also bake some of their special “Hello Dolly” cookies for Nixon, who in turn offers them to Leonid Brezhnev, whereupon the Cold Warriors break into the “Hello Dolly” title song, and soon the girls learn that the Soviet Union and the United States have signed a major peace accord! (Betsy’s Vietnam-protesting brother stashed marijuana leaves into the jar of ingredients, unaware that they would put them into the cookies.) Next, Arlene falls in love with Nixon and imagines that she will marry him after he divorces Pat. However, they eventually find out about Nixon’s attempt to cover up the Watergate burglary, see the shredding of documents, and hear and record over the foul language and anti-Jewish remarks of the hitherto secret tapes. Betsy is Jewish, so the two are so angered by Nixon that they decide to inform Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch), and the information that they supply brings down the Nixon presidency. Although the dialog and plot may be teenagerish, all actors chosen to play White House and Washington Post roles have such a cartoon resemblance to the real persons—and to those who play them in All the President’s Men (1976)—that mature filmviewers will bellylaugh the first time they parade onto the screen. Moreover, Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp are themselves cartoonized by Arlene and Betsy, whose innocence saved them from talking or even thinking about sex with the president. The one important insight of the film is that Nixon did not fall because of his tricks in a Washington where machiavellism is par for the course, but rather that Nixon lost popularity because of something that Arlene and Betsy (playing female Forrest Gumps) as well as Checkers grasped reasonably quickly—that Nixon lacked simple human decency. The Saturday Night Live imbecility of all the adults in the film is an indictment not just of those trapped by the Nixon presidency but of the absurdity of much of American politics ever since. Future generations will now be absolutely certain that “deep throat” was Arlene and Betsy, Cliff Notes notwithstanding. The tagline of the film, released approximately twenty-five years to the day when Nixon resigned, well summarizes Dick: “He was tricky. They were better.” And as Nixon helicopters away from the White House after his resignation, Arlene and Betsy have the last say—a banner that they hold up, as the helicopter flies over Betsy’s house, which says, “YOU SUCK, DICK.” MH