Yesterday I read Young Il Kim‘s Rodham, the Hillary Clinton-at-the-crossroads screenplay that James Ponsoldt (Smashed, The Spectacular Now) will direct. It’s a snappy, reasonably engaging read as far as it goes. I can see why it’s a “go” project and why some top-tier actresses want to play the part. It’s an intriguing story about a smart woman dealing with flattering sexism in high places, and how she dealt with the difficult choice of becoming the star of her own life and career vs. becoming the partner of an up-and-comer. The film will also serve as a flattering testimonial when Clinton (presumably) launches her campaign for President in 2015.
It almost reads like a 25 year-old James L. Brooks screenplay as it’s partly a conflicted romance story (does 20something Hillary really want to sublimate her brains and bright political future to being Bill Clinton‘s wife and partner back in Arkansas? Will she hook up with the swoony William Weld instead?) and partly a tart political drama about the House Judiciary Committee’s handling of the Watergate scandal, as it covers Hillary’s work in 1974 as a member of the impeachment inquiry staff under Chief Counsel John Doar and senior member Bernard Nussbaum.
I actually think Lena Dunham would be aces in the role as she naturally radiates brilliance and mental snap, and she can do round-faced frumpiness with the coke-bottle glasses. Amanda Seyfried would be a close physical match, especially if she gains a bit of weight. Aren’t Jessica Chastain and Reese Withgerspoon too old to play a mid-to-late 20something? I wouldn’t believe Scarlett Johansson in the role — she has snap and anger but I don’t believe she could project bullwhip brilliance.
I have four beefs with the script.
One, it feels a little too snappy — it’s partly Brooksian, yes, but it also feels at times like it was written by the guys who wrote The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Rhoda. If I was producing I’d bring in an older seasoned heavyweight writer to gave it a little more grit and gravitas and undercurrent.
Two, almost everybody Hillary runs into is famous or semi-famous or at least recognizable as a person of noteworthy accomplishment. The script needs a nobody or two to make it feel less like a grab-bag of semi-famous ’70s faces (or semi-famous present-day figures when they were young).
Three, Clinton’s autobiography as well as Carl Bernstein‘s 2007 Hillary Clinton biography (“A Woman in Charge”) reported that Hillary failed the District of Columbia bar exam and and yet passed the Arkansas bar exam, and that this was a likely factor in her decision to leave Washington and move to Arkansas in August 1974 after President Nixon‘s resignation. And yet the script makes it seem as if Hillary is basically following her heart and leaping off a relationship cliff for the sake of her partnership with Bill, or for the sake of curiosity or passion.
And four, there’s an obviously layered and mixed message in this semi-romantic finale as we all know what happened in terms of Bill’s fidelity to Hillary. Which in itself is/was a mixed message given their ascendancy to the White House for two terms in the ’90s, and Hillary’s stand-alone political success as a New York Senator, as Barack Obama‘s chief opponent for the Democratic nomination in 2008 and as the nation’s Secretary of State under BHO. (And as a likely candidate for the White House in 2016.) HRC made out just fine off her marriage to Bill Clinton, but…well, it’s hardly a simple tale.