I’ve seen it a few times now, an incipient meme. “If this were a movie,” people write, “no one would believe it.” “This” of course refers to the epidemic of surreality more than the virus itself (the latter being all-too believable). Yesterday’s news, for example, #IMPOTUS tweeting “LIBERATE!” in support of right-wing protesters against public gathering who—against all informed advice—are standing up for their right to die and kill other people anyplace they want.
#IfThisWereAMovie—I’m talking now about the disaster flick available on all channels morning, noon, and night—I’d do some type of clone-magic to cast the #IMPOTUS character as a combo of Sydney Greenstreet (as he was in The Maltese Falcon) and Andy Griffith (as he was in A Face in The Crowd). Or maybe just Jabba The Hutt. Hedy Lamarr, I guess, as FLOTUS, and the whole raft of loyally immoral advisors and officials could be lifted straight from a bunch of MGM B-pictures with greed and self-regard as main themes, such as A Stranger in Town. Who would you cast?
But truly, #IfThisWereAMovie—the movie I want to see right now, my model would be a Frank Capra picture. Take Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, the 1939 film that made Jimmy Stewart a star. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a simple and down-to-earth fellow who heads the Boy Rangers, becoming a hero to children by teaching useful skills while instilling basic ethics. By a fluke, his state’s Governor appoints Smith as a placeholder to fill a vacant Senate seat. When Smith discovers the depth and breadth of corruption in Washington, his enemies in high places retaliate by framing him for self-dealing. The story culminates in a filibuster whereby Jeff Smith, fueled by truckloads of supporting letters from boys and their allies across the nation, shames one of the corrupt co-conspirators into confessing. There’s a great star-turn by Jean Arthur as a cynical political veteran whose heart is melted by Smith’s nobility, and—if you like fables—quite a few other moments worth watching.
Now, #IfThisWereAMovie for today, it would have to be updated: truckloads of snail-mail? I’d cast Rosario Dawson as Ms. Jess Smith. There would be an up-to-the-minute angle to her being appointed to fill out a deceased Senator’s term. What if the Governor of a border state decided to be trendy and asked people to nominate appointees via Instagram? What if Ms. Smith had become famous among the youth of that state by fighting for the rights of immigrants at the border, for pointing out how every issue of racial or economic justice also tied back to environmental justice? Hashtag #ClimateRefugees?
#IfThisWereAMovie, a raft of teenage digital natives would pick up the challenge and nearly break Instagram with the volume of their posts nominating Ms. Smith.
#IfThisWereAMovie, the Governor’s desire for the youth vote would outweigh his fear of MAGA-thugs. The Governor role needs someone who can look clueless and winsome, so I’m pretty sure either Jeff Daniels or Ryan Reynolds could fill it.
#IfThisWereAMovie, Ms. Smith would arrive in Washington not long before the first hints of the pandemic appeared. Jess would actually care what scientists had to say about public health, so she would actually read the briefing papers that came across her desk. She would be the first Senator to call for hearings on pandemic readiness, but her resolution would be blocked by the Senate Majority Leader (who should be played by Don Knotts or one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but among the living, I would cast Paul Giamatti.
#IfThisWereAMovie, reluctantly, Ms. Smith would turn to her father, Denzel Washington (though heavily influenced by the Joe Morton character on the TV series “Scandal).” He’d be a Washington insider who knew everyone’s secrets and had no compunctions about clandestine ops. His weakness would be that he wanted his daughter’s love and respect, but his daughter—troubled by a little thing called morality—couldn’t quite go there.
#IfThisWereAMovie, desperate to save the nation from countless deaths, Ms. Smith would suck it up to ask her father for help on one condition: no kidnap, torture, or other secret evil will be allowed.
#IfThisWereAMovie, Mr. Smith would suck it up too and take on the mission.
#IfThisWereAMovie, Mr. Smith would come to his daughter with a file full of deep background. He would tell Jess that #IMPOTUS—this time played by an actual living actor, William Shatner (Trevor Noah would be on the payroll as his voice coach, btw)—had access to all the same warnings and studies she had discovered, but because they aren’t available in comic-book form, read none of them.
#IfThisWereAMovie, #IMPOTUS’ advisors—played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Alex Azar), Jesse Eisenberg (Steve Mnuchin), Wallace Shawn (Wilbur Ross), Cuba Gooding (Ben Carson), Jane Lynch (Betsy DeVos), Edward Norton (Mark Esper), Jon Voigt (Mike Pompeo), M. Emmet Walsh (Sonny Perdue), Constance Wu (Elaine Chao), Drew Carey (William Barr), (and so on) would appear in behind-the-scenes shots in which they ridiculed #IMPOTUS just as you and I do. But when they were sitting around the big conference table in the Cabinet Room adjoining the Oval Office, the camera would come in for a tight shot on each of their faces as they impersonated fealty, smiled with puppy eyes, and puckered up, preparing to deliver the obeisance to which their master is addicted.
#IfThisWereAMovie, Senator Smith would share the truth about the pandemic and the way #IMPOTUS had worsened it at every turn—the way he treated suffering as a profit-center, they way people were mere things he could use for his own benefit, as he’d done at every stage of his life—with the legions of young people who’d Instagram’d her into a Senate seat. She’d never miss a chance to say this wasn’t about #IMPOTUS alone, but a system that had appointed him Chief Greedhead and must be addressed at the root.
#IfThisWereAMovie, even though months had passed and the nation was under quarantine, every member of Congress and Cabinet member would receive so many texts, emails, and phone messages from constituents that it would be impossible to ignore them. Their message? #HaveYouNoShame? Invoke the 25th amendment and save us all!
#IfThisWereAMovie, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Katie Porter, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and a dozen other members of Congress would join with Senator Jess Smith to filibuster, reading messages from their constituents and exhorting their colleagues to remember what it’s like to protect human life and practice democracy before it’s too late.
#IfThisWereAMovie, while the filibuster was going on—while the leaders of both the Senate (Paul Giamatti, you may recall) and the House (played by Christine Baranski) tried in vain to get enough votes to invoke cloture and end the filibuster—14 Cabinet-level officials would wake up out of their trances and decide to jump ship before their political careers were gone for good.
#IfThisWereAMovie, in the final scene, #IMPOTUS (William Shatner in his orange wig, unforgettable) would be removed kicking and screaming from the White House. Mr. Smith (Denzel to the rescue) would be just another black-suited six-footer in a Secret Service cordon escorting the gross deranged baby to an undisclosed location. He would quietly let his daughter know that #IMPOTUS—now watching TV in an undisclosed secure location—would be looked after and provided with all the drug-laced Big Macs he wanted.
#IfThisWereAMovie, President Pence (James Brolin) would serve a very, very quiet few months in office. Mr. Smith/Denzel would be seen standing quietly in the background in every scene featuring Pence. We would know why from the flashback scene explaining Pence’s rule of never being alone with a woman other than his wife (even in the film, the details are sketchy, but they involve a scary clown, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ann Coulter).
#IfThisWereAMovie, in the closing scene, we’d see Senator Smith on the dais at the 2021 presidential inauguration, sitting right behind Vice President Stacy Abrams.
That’s the movie I want to see right now. How about you?
Bob Dylan’s “Political World” performed by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.