Rules It Exemplifies:
- Invest Possessions With Emotion: Specifically Zach Galifianakis’s pugs, who serve many purposes here. They start out as just an opportunity to “pet the dog” (establish quick sympathy) and show what a down-home guy he is, but then Will Farrell attacks him for having Chinese dogs, so his campaign manager makes him kick his real dogs out and replace them with manlier American dogs. From this point on, the exiled pugs lurk outside Galifianakis’s house, staring in accusingly as everything that goes on inside, nicely representing his excised conscience. We know what it will mean when he lets the pugs in...
- Comedy Requires Pain: I can get bored with political stories in which neither party is identified. I’m the first to admit that both parties are just about equally corrupt these days, but that’s doesn’t mean that they’re corrupt in the same way. These “who knows which party it is?” stories deny themselves the gift of specificity, limiting themselves to strictly generic observations. This movie scores more effective points against both parties by naming names.
- This is the sort of world where…: The reason I hired a babysitter and went out and saw this movie was because of the bust-a-gut trailer moment when Will Farrell punched out a baby. Now you know that I’ve complained about CGI, but here (as with this other rare exception), it was a boon: If the punching of that baby had been at all realistic, nobody would have laughed. But the slo-mo ripple of the punch across the baby’s face makes the joke work because it’s not realistic... Comedy requires pain, but just enough pain to get a big laugh that doesn’t turn into a scream.