Game Change, the buzzy TV movie premiering Saturday night on HBO, may be racking up strong critical notices, but a certain former Alaska governor is unlikely to tune in. The film is based on John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's 2010 bestseller about the 2008 presidential race, zeroing in on the chapters devoted to John McCain's hasty decision to add Sarah Palin to his ticket and the crash-and-burn fate that befell the duo, played by Ed Harris and Julianne Moore. (Watch the trailer below.) Palin herself maintains she won't see the film, blasting it as "Hollywood lies." And while her PAC is urging HBO to run a "fiction disclaimer" before it airs, HBO and director Jay Roach have declined, noting that they've confirmed the film's accuracy with 25 additional sources not interviewed for the book. Is Game Change's portrayal of Sarah Palin fair and accurate?
You betcha: Game Change "is entertaining and commendable precisely because it stays so close to the facts," says David Bianculli at NPR, nowhere more so than in its humanizing and "balanced" portrayal of the larger-than-life Sarah Palin . She's empathetically depicted as a mom from Alaska who was torn from her family and thrown into the political rat race. We see her react to the pressure, as "she pushes back, or shuts down — and the underlying tone of those scenes, on both sides, is frustration."
"Is Game Change fair to Sarah Palin? You betcha"
All credit goes to Moore: Julianne Moore gives a performance "so compassionate that anyone with an imagination will feel her terror as a deer in the Klieg lights of the national stage," says Troy Patterson at Slate. In the early vetting scenes, she communicates a touching earnestness and "eagerness to please," turning Palin into a sympathetic figure. Game Change replays Palin's major media gaffes, but instead of inciting laughter, the "resentment and paranoia" that Moore's face conveys actually has you rooting for her to succeed. Hurl every major award at the actress for acing "the immodest task of humanizing the media beast called Sarah Palin."
"Fear and self-loathing on the campaign trail"
Actually, Palin's right to be mad: Game Change makes everyone look bad, says Nancy Dewolf Smith at The Wall Street Journal. Chiefly, Sarah Palin. The tutoring session that reveals her ignorance of basic historical facts paints her as "an ignoramus of epic proportions." Other scenes show her "sullenly texting like a maniac" when she should be devoting her attention to the campaign. The final act shifts into horror film mode as Palin goes rogue, campaign advisers' eyes widen, and someone whispers, terrified, "We can't control her anymore." The portrayal of Palin admittedly isn't as vicious as it could be, but it's "unflattering enough to offend her supporters."