In classrooms across America school students are taught that "every vote counts;" but what if the result of a presidential election came down to a single vote? That is the premise of a Capra-esque political fable starring and produced by Kevin Costner. Alan Silverman has this look at Swing Vote.
Bud Johnson had ambitions of being a country music star, but to make ends meet he had to settle for a ramshackle trailer in a dusty New Mexico town and a job packing eggs on a poultry farm. Now, he's lost that dead-end job and may not exactly be the best example for his 11-year-old daughter Molly, who Bud is raising alone since her mother left them. But idealistic Molly won't let her dad be just a slacker.
The closely fought presidential election is in a nationwide tie and hinges on the results from the tiny community where Bud and Molly live; but the ballot count can't be completed because of a technical glitch in an electronic voting machine.
Unfortunately for Bud, it is not that simple. With 10 days before the special one-man voting day, that one man becomes the center of a furious campaign for Bud's vote amid the glare of a hungry media horde.
Kevin Costner stars as Bud and also personally financed the movie to confront what he sees as a widespread attitude that "my one vote does not matter."
"A lot of us feel that it doesn't and I can't take myself out of that club," Costner says. "When you do the math you think 'I don't matter.' But when you start to think of yourself as a whole ...as part of the fabric of America ...that's when you realize that your vote does matter. When we don't participate, we let the whole scheme fall down because our democracy depends on it: the privilege we have and lives lost in fighting for it depends on it and when America moves together, we do matter. When we move together people will cater to what our needs are."
The campaign managers search for the tiniest clue about Bud's attitudes and pressure their respective candidates into saying whatever may be necessary to win his vote. It's satire, but Costner says it is rooted in reality.
"While we comedically show that they are willing to flip-flop, there is not any of us that doesn't really understand that with two men ...or two women or whomever ...competing for the biggest job in the free world and coming down to a single vote, it is not unrealistic to think that they would in their deepest, darkest recesses, be willing to flip-flop," Costner says. "It is not unrealistic to say that those who are guiding them would say 'Look, just do this [and] we'll fix it tomorrow. We'll do the wrong thing today in order to do the right thing tomorrow.' That's where we've gotten into trouble because we have people who have made a career out of doing that and have somehow justified it."
Costner believes the father-daughter relationship of Bud and Molly makes the story accessible; but, in the tradition of idealistic films such as those of director Frank Capra 60 years ago, it also has a socially important theme.
"Clearly Swing Vote is not a public service announcement, but I think it might be better," he says. "Every one of you who sits in the dark and gets to the end can ask yourself a fundamental question. You've had this comedic ride and maybe had a tear well up ...because you know at its essence it's about a man and his fifth grader set against a backdrop of politics ...but, interestingly enough, when we get to that last speech, you can ask yourself that fundamental question: am I Bud or am I a participant? Who am I going to be going forward? It's not going to change the world, but I feel good about what we tried to do."
Swing Vote co-stars young Madeline Carroll as daughter Molly. Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper play the presidential contenders with Stanley Tucci and Nathan Lane as their determined campaign managers. Paula Patton plays a journalist with a conscience in this fable co-written by Jason Richman and Swing Vote director Josh Stern.