I’ve Read Rodham

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.

  • JChasse

    I had ice cream.

    • Ass.

      • JChasse

        Well, to be fair, Jeff, when I posted what I posted, you just had a headline and two photos with no copy.

  • ThriceDamned

    I love lamp

  • Raising_Kaned

    “It almost reads like a 25 year-old James L. Brooks screenplay…”

    Wait — you don’t mean this as a compliment, do you? And it’s funny how almost anything described as JLB-ish we automatically associate from ’83 to ’88 (or thereabouts).

    All those actresses seem wrong for HRC to me. Shouldn’t it probably be an unknown? What’s that old rule of thumb? If you have a movie in which the character is the star (or already a known entity), you don’t really need a name — but if the character isn’t as clearly defined, or a blank slate of sorts (like a Jack Reacher/Jason Bourne), you better get someone with some onscreen baggage to fill in the holes (Cruise/Damon).

    Having said that, I’d sorta like to see Jena Malone have a crack at it. It’ll never happen, of course, but I always thought she was a pretty good actress who was one juicy part away…plus, I think she could believably play bookish without winking at the camera in the way that Witherspoon/Seyfried undoubtedly would.

    • Alan Burnett

      They should cast an unknown for Hillary and an up-and-coming star for Bill. It might defuse some of the tension in the love triangle, but that’s inevitable considering EVERYONE knows what happened next. However, we’ll probably end up with “Johansson/Seyfried IS Clinton” despite the fact the CHARACTER is the star.

  • Alan Burnett

    I can’t see Dunham in the role. I am a Deadline-comments-section douchebag who hates her for her success. (Has anyone read a news article involving her? Yikes …). However, an actor needs vocal and physical range to pull off the physical transformation necessary, and I just can’t see her making that leap.

  • Actually

    Jeffrey Wells, 5/31:

    “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.”

    Actually, 5/29:

    “Iā€™m sorry, you need someone who can play smart yet frumpy. Lena Dunham would be perfect casting.”


    You’re welcome, Jeff.

    • Breedlove

      A truly amazing achievement. You must be proud.

      • Actually

        Don’t be an ass. Jeff plagiarized a commenter, I’m just calling him out on it.

        • Breedlove

          I took it more like you were bragging that you had this brilliant idea first. See your point though. The dual use of frumpiness. Anyway doubt you would have pointed it out if it was anyone other than you…anyone with the handle “Actually” who signs his posts “You’re Welcome” should probably be prepared for the occasional pushback, no?

    • jermsguy

      Greg Gutfeld suggested Lena Dunham on 5/28 on The Five.

      • Actually

        Which would mean something if I watched Greg Gutfeld, or had Jeff not used the same words I did.

    • Sorry…you said it first.

      • Actually

        Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate it.

  • Gil Padilla

    Best thing? No Streep, that is good…

  • Awardsdaily

    They’ll probably go with a British actress since all of our young actresses here sound too dumb. But please, not someone who is famous for being hot first, talented second. If there is one thing Hillary had to endure her whole life and career it was that she was not hot first before everything else she was/is. Linda Cardellini would be my choice.

    • Raising_Kaned

      Not only was she not hot before everything else she was/is, she just plain wasn’t hot (lulz).

      Not a terrible call on Cardellini, though — I could see it.

      • Awardsdaily

        Not hot, true. But hey, if she were would she ever have accomplished as much?

        • Raising_Kaned

          Oh, I’m sure you’re right there — no argument whatsoever about that.

      • Breedlove

        Except Cardellini is hot. Been watching Mad Men this season?

        • Raising_Kaned

          Yes, yesssss — I agree (of course). But good luck finding any established “name” actress in Hollywood that is truly as dowdy and frumpy as HRC was back in the day.

          Cardellini is hot, Jena Malone (my choice) is hot — hell, even Heather Matarazzo is pretty hot these days.

          The main difference between these three — as opposed to the triumverate of frontrunners for this project (I’m not including Chastain here because I think she’s fantastic) — is that I think they’re at least capable of attempting to downgrade their vanity/natural beauty for the sake of a role.

          It’s not like you’re going to ever look at any of them and think, “wow, not hot!” But you hope for an internal transformation on a similar level to Theron in Monster or Berry in Monster’s Ball (or at least DuVall in Argo or something).

    • Kat

      Can Cardellini pull off mid-20’s? Great idea as far as voice/intelligence coming through.

      • Awardsdaily

        Not sure. Maybe she’s too old. šŸ™

  • Raising_Kaned

    Thom Phoolery says…

    What the fuck? Is this a screenplay discovered posthumously? I was told Kim Jong-il was dead.

  • There will be more articles about this film than dollars it makes at the box office.

    • Breedlove

      Josh Massey: adding a politically conservative touch to movie chat blogs since 1997. In a perfectly pleasant way compared to most, I might add.

  • Jeff

    Dunham doesn’t have the chops for this at all. What have we seen from her except playing literally herself in every way? She is fine on GIRLS but the star of the show is her writing, not her performance. Someone like Rebecca Hall might be interesting, Seyfried seems dead eyed when she talks. ScarJo doesn’t project the intelligence necessary for the part. Chastain isn’t bad but long in the tooth. Witherspoon is all wrong for it.

  • Steven Gaydos

    Bill Clinton was the perfect president for the American 90s: venal, narcissistic, corrupt, a corporately-compromised cheap hack from Arkansas. His turning the Democratic Party to feed at the big money hog trough led to Glass-Steagall’s repeal and economic catastrophe. It emboldened the crooked Republicans to veer even farther to the right. They’ve now gone so crooked and crazy that Hillary will win in a landslide and she’s got my vote. How’s that for unintended consequences?

  • MovieSquad

    So this is basically a puff piece movie timed to coincide with her potential campaign? Which studio owes her a favor or potentially wants one if she becomes Pres?

  • Breedlove

    Abbie Cornish? I really like Ellen Page and she is so hard to cast…we haven’t seen her try to stretch yet, I wonder if she could pull it off with wigs and makeup and shit. Odd suggestion, I know. Dakota Fanning getting older and ready for a transition kinda big role? I think maybe I like the idea unless she’s too young.

    • Jeff

      I love the Ellen Page idea. My favorite so far. Not an identical match but has a similar erudite meets lack of overt sexuality while being cute and not too hot.

    • Alex

      Those are two brilliant suggestions. Ellen Page could be great if she turns down her Juno-isms. She’s also in with a decent because she is young, recognisable, has an Oscar nom and is not seen as overly sexual.

      Dakota Fanning would be perfect for the role if this movie was made in like 4 year’s time. She definitely look like Hillary, can act, is whip smart and has name recognition. She could possibly play older so I hope she is at least considered for the role.

  • Max Stephens

    Andrea Riseborough. She’s already done something similar in http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1067578/

  • Kat

    Maggie Gyllenhaal, with 15 extra pounds and some digital de-aging?

  • Jason T.

    Can’t think of a movie more Americans couldn’t care less for. If it doesn’t go into her present (and many past) shames, then it’s just another liberal screed.

  • Based on the first image you have of young Hillary, I concur with the Amanda Seyfried suggestion. She has the look and the range to knock it out of the park. Lena Dunham has such a pervasive personal brand that it would be hard to contextualize her inhabiting Hillary’s skin, plus it would give conservatives a field day.

  • Ivan__Drago

    I’ll pass.