I wouldn’t necessarily say that I love Dick but I still think it’s a pretty good film. (Ha ha, see what I did there?) Of course, to really appreciate this 1999 comedy, it helps to know a little something about political history. For instance, it helps to know that the Dick of the title is President Richard Nixon (played here by a hilariously paranoid Dan Hedaya). In 1973, as the result of his attempt to cover up White House involvement of a burglary at the Watergate Hotel, Nixon became the first President to resign from office.
A lot of the credit for Nixon’s downfall was given to two reporters for the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (played, in this film, by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch). While Woodward and Bernstein investigated the Watergate break-in, they were reportedly fed information by a highly placed informant who was referred to as being Deep Throat. For years, the identity of Deep Throat was a closely held secret. Countless books were written that speculated as to who Deep Throat may have been. (In the film All The President’s Men, he was played by Hal Holbrook.) Finally, in 2005, it was revealed that Deep Throat was a FBI agent named Mark W. Felt, who was upset because he was passed over for a promotion.
And, quite frankly, that’s kind of a disappointing solution. When you think about someone who brought down the government, you hope that he or she will turn out to be something more than just a disgruntled employee whose previous work consisted on running counter intelligence operations against domestic political activists.
In fact, it’s hard not to wish that, perhaps, Deep Throat could have been two 15 year-old girls who just happened to stumble across one of the biggest political scandals in American history.
Well, fortunately, this is the theory proposed in Dick. Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams) are two friends who, one night in 1972, sneak out of Arlene’s apartment so that they can mail a fan letter to singer Bobby Sherman. While doing so, they happen to stumble across the Watergate burglars and get a good look at White House aide G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer).
The next day, while on a field trip to the White House, the two girls are spotted by Liddy. Liddy arranges for them to be pulled to the side and questioned by chief-of-staff H.R. Haldeman (Dave Foley), who determines that the girls barely know who Nixon is and that they don’t understand what they witnessed. However, before Haldeman can send the girls on their way, Nixon himself enters the office and complains about how poorly planned the break-in was.
This leads to an unlikely relationship between Nixon and Betsy and Arlene. Hoping to win their loyalty (and their silence), Nixon arranges for them to be his official dog walkers. Betsy and Arlene, meanwhile, still don’t have the slightest idea of what’s going on. They accidentally bring pot cookies to the White House (which Nixon particularly enjoys) and Arlene even develops a mad crush on Nixon.
But, of course, Nixon eventually shows his true colors and Betsy and Arlene take down the government….
In many ways Dick is a one-joke film, in which Betsy and Arlene regularly find themselves blissfully unaware while history literally unfolds around them. But it’s actually a pretty clever joke and it’s also a very plausible one. People are often unaware that anything important is happening when it’s actually happening. Often times, it’s only in retrospect that historical moments are seen to be truly historical. And, ultimately, Watergate itself is such a bizarre scandal that it’s the perfect moment in history to be reinterpreted as a comedy.
Dick is ridiculous enough to be funny but plausible enough to be memorable.