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November, 2004, New Mexico. Bud is a slacker with one good thing in his life, his engaging fifth-grade daughter Molly. On election day, Bud is supposed to meet her at the polling place. When he doesn't show, she sneaks a ballot and is about to vote when the power goes off. It turns out that New Mexico's electoral votes will decide the contest, and there it's tied with one vote needing recasting - Bud's. The world's media and both presidential candidates, including the current President, descend on Bud in anticipation of his re-vote in two weeks. Can the clueless Bud, even with the help of Molly and a local TV reporter, handle this responsibility? Written by
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Kevin Costner is adorable as the slacker father of a overachieving, 12-year-old daughter. The kid-as-parent/parent-as-kid premise wouldn't have worked nearly as well if Costner's character, Bud Johnson, weren't so darn lovable. If you're looking for perfectly coiffed, cleaned up Costner, you won't find him here. He mostly looks like your husband first thing in the morning -- you know, the scruffy hair, unshaven face, and glazed over, half-asleep look where you wonder what you ever saw in him? But inside is a heart of gold? He pulls this role off to perfection. He's the lovable underachiever always with a clueless grin.
When the attorney general shows up at his door to tell him basically that he has the deciding vote, Bud's only comment, in a half-whisper is, "Does this mean I'm going to have to do jury duty?" The movie is good -- in fact if you like Dave with Kevin Kline, you'll like Swing Vote.
However, it tried to combine two movies. One was the comedy with Bud being the ONLY voting demographic needing to be catered to -- hence, personal appearances by Richard Petty and Willie Nelson -- the other was a sometimes hard-to-watch story of a daughter, played by Madeline Carroll, caring for her alcoholic father.
Carroll is a wonderful actress, and would be stellar in a drama. Her wistful, knowing looks at her father's helplessness, and her astute understanding of her mother's inability to be a mother were heart-wrenching. That could have been an entire story in itself and often took away from the comic elements. Mare Winningham was fantastic as the mother who ran away. She, Costner and Carroll really clicked on screen in their one scene together as a family torn apart by the selfish indulgence of the parents to the detriment of the child who deserves more. I marveled at that scene until I remembered that Winningham and Costner were in the movie "The War" as parents torn apart by Vietnam to the detriment of their son, young Elijah Wood. Costner and Winningham should get together again in a more upbeat film. Their relationship is very natural.
But in spite of the sad, child-having-to-be-the-adult part of Swing Vote, it was 80% comedy, and Costner's antics made it laugh out loud funny at times. It didn't seem to be politically bent one way or the other. It was patriotic and commented on immigrants from Mexico taking away jobs from Americans. But it was also pro-environment and touched on lack of health care for the many. The end was pure feel-good. Everyone changed appropriately, realizing the true (Hollywood) meaning of voting in America.
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