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What About the Film?
by GAY BOY RIC
2003-11-12

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The wording of the CBS Promo for the now-cancelled (and soon-to-be-on-cable) controversial mini-series The Reagans read across the TV screen like this:

'FROM THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS OF THE EMMY-WINNING LIFE WITH JUDY GARLAND ... AND THE OSCAR-WINNING CHICAGO ... COMES A MEGATELEVISION EVENT ... JUDY DAVIS ... JAMES BROLIN .... THE REAGANS.'

The most unusual thing about the wording of this promo, pulled since before the controversy began to swirl around the mini-series, is that it leads with a reference to Life with Judy Garland, the recent ABC mini-series starring Judy Davis as Judy Garland— which was, like The Reagans, exec-produced by the out production team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.

However, the memory of Davis as Garland is still so strong—and her portrayal of Nancy is so similar to her portrayal of Judy (or Faye Dunaway's of Joan Crawford)—that, for a moment, one blanches: 'I must have somehow forgotten that Reagan was one of JUDY's husbands ...'

It's not insignificant that Judy Davis gets lead billing over James Brolin. The Reagans is much more Nancy's story than Ronald Reagan's. However, the casting of James Brolin was the mini-series' first biggest mis-step. At no point during the movie do you relate to Reagan as anything other than a hapless character in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

There was no reason for CBS to pull The Reagans, as the mini-series was precisely what they had ordered.

While the title may mis-lead some to believe that the mini-series was meant to be a celebration of the couple's lifelong love affair,

Meron and Zadan were upfront about their wilful intention to be controversial. (Interestingly, an earlier version had been rejected by ABC—where Zadan and Meron had strong established ties—for being too tame and uncontroversial).

The only real bias of the film is in the direction of camp and Mommie Dearest iconography rather than leftism or an alleged truthfulness to the historical record. If the goal were to broadcast a movie that did not white-wash Reagan's Presidential negligence with regard to AIDS, this was not the right style choice. However valid the record of Reagan's ... well, not homophobia per se, but as a friend of mine once put it, more simply, his disappointing simple total lack of concern—this dark SNL meets Mommie Dearest treatment negates all credibility.

NANCY QUOTABLES:

'These men are serious—AND they're Republicans.' (Said to Reagan when he initially balks at running for Governor of California.. 'Well, I'm an actor, not a politician,' he replies. 'Ronnie, you're not just an actor,' Nancy prods. 'You're more than that and you know it')

'Ten inaugural balls, Ronnie! How can we possibly go to all of them???'

'Patti, there will be no blue jeans in this White House. Women will not wear pants of any kind.'

'I cannot redecorate the White House for $50,000! I need a million at least.' (Said to Mike Deaver, who responds, 'Can't you see how it looks? The President talks about cutting back—and here you are spending millions of dollars?' Nancy's reply: 'Queen Nancy, I know. I read the papers, Mike').

'Bitburg is a military cemetery ... send George Bush! Let him be humiliated.'

'We need a bill that will pay for programs, needles, condoms .... Ronnie, what if it were Ronnie or Patti?' (After a scene of Nancy in a roundtable therapy-style meeting with AIDS patients, Nancy makes a bedside plea on behalf of the cause of AIDS to a clearly unlistening Reagan. His response, now cut, is the infamous fictionally scripted Bible-inspired line, 'They that live in sin shall die in sin').

RONALD REAGAN QUOTABLES:

'How do you like these Iranians? Releasing the hostages on my Inauguration Day!?!'

'We can't sell arms to Iran—and we support Iraq!' (Although portrayed with early Alzheimer's while still in Office, and not recognizing the two chief aides who are determined to manipulate him into an arms-for-hostages deal, Reagan oddly has the presence of mind to remember the state of U.S. relations with the two countries in question, Iran and Iraq).

NANCY AND RONALD DISCUSS RON REAGAN, JR.'s SUDDEN MARRIAGE

'Both of our children have turned into demented exhibitionists!!! ... I can't believe Ron would get married without us!' (Nancy to Ronald in the White House bedroom, after they've just seen Ron Jr.'s Saturday Night Live impression of Tom Cruise playing air guitar in his button-down shirt and underwear from Risky Business)

'Well, at least we know he's not gay.' (Reagan)

'Celebrate our son's marriage to the daughter of an Italian house painter?' (Nancy)

'Well, I don't know if we're any better ... a couple of hack actors living in the White House! Huh?' (Reagan, tickling and teasing Nancy in bed). ----------------------------------------


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