Way back in 1919, the terrible U.S. President and tyrannical dictator Woodrow Wilson* suffered a stroke that left him semi-paralyzed and unable to perform his duties. By all standards, Wilson should have been removed from office, if just temporarily. However, in those pre-Internet days, it was a lot easier to hide the truth about Wilson’s physical and mental condition. While Wilson spent his days locked away in his bedroom, his wife Edith would forge his signature on bills. Whenever anyone asked for the President’s opinion, Edith would give her opinion and then assure everyone that it was actually the President’s.
(And really, as long as you were promoting eugenics and white supremacy, it probably was not difficult to imitate Wilson’s opinions.)
Of course, back then, people were used to the idea of never seeing their President in public. Hence, it was very easy for Wilson to remain sequestered in the White House. If a similar situation happened today, it’s doubtful that anyone could successfully keep the public from finding out. When we don’t see the President every day, we wonder why. How, in this day and age, could a Presidential incapacitation be covered up?
The 1993 film Dave offers up one possible solution.
Dave is the story of two men who happen to look exactly like Kevin Kline. One of them is named Bill Mitchell and he’s the arrogant and corrupt President of the United States. The other is named Dave Kovic. He’s a nice guy who runs a temp agency and who has a nice side job going as a professional Bill Mitchell imitator.
So, when Bill has a stroke while having sex with a white house staffer (Laura Linney), it only makes sense to recruit Dave Kovic to pretend to the President. White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (played by Frank Langella, so you know he’s evil) tells Dave that Vice President Nance (Ben Kingsley) is insane and corrupt. Dave agrees to imitate the President. Of course, Alexander’s main plan is to convince Nance to resign and then get Dave to appoint him as Vice President. Once Alexander is Vice President, it will be announced that Mitchell has had another stroke and then Alexander will move into the Oval Office.
However, what Alexander did not take into account was just how much Dave would enjoy being President. From the moment that he joyfully shouts, “God Bless, America!,” Dave’s enthusiasm starts to win the public over. Suddenly, people are realizing that President Mitchell isn’t such a bad President after all. Even more importantly, Dave wins over the first lady (Sigourney Weaver) who, previously, had little use for her philandering husband. When Alexander claims that there’s no money in the budget to continue funding a program for the homeless, Dave calls in his best friend, an accountant named Murray (Charles Grodin), and has him rewrite the budget…
And you know what?
Dave is one of those films that tempts me to be all cynical and snarky but, ultimately, the film itself is so likable and earnest that I can even accept the idea that one accountant could balance the budget through common sense alone. I’ll even accept the idea that Dave could come up with a program that would guarantee everyone employment without, at the same time, bankrupting the country. Kevin Kline is so enthusiastic in the lead role and the film itself is so good-natured that it almost feels wrong to criticize it for being totally implausible.
Sometimes, you just have to appreciate a film for being likable.
* For those of you keeping count, that’s the third time in two weeks that I’ve referred to Woodrow Wilson as being a dictator. Before anyone points out that some historians rank Wilson as being in the top ten of President, allow me to say that I don’t care. I DO WHAT I WANT!