Almost any topic can be funny with the right touch.
Just ask Mel Brooks, the man who gave us “Springtime for Hitler” in the 1967 comedy “The Producers.”
What about a comedy about a U.S. president’s battle with dementia? Based on a beloved conservative icon, no less?
We may never find out.
Earlier this week, Will Ferrell attached, and then left, a project focused on President Ronald Reagan’s second term in office. The movie’s satirical angle? Reagan is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and his administration scrambles to keep up the appearance that he’s still fit for office.
The real Reagan did suffer from the incurable disease. He announced his condition via an emotional public letter released in 1994. Doctors insist he wasn’t showing dementia symptoms while in office.
Reagan’s children howled in protest after Ferrell agreed to play Reagan in the film. One group which battles Alzheimer’s disease complained, but only after news hit that Ferrell had left the project.
It’s likely the screenplay, part of a notorious “Black List” of unproduced but buzz-worthy scripts, will never get made. Ferrell’s high-profile departure will likely tell others to stay far, far away lest a social media firestorm develop anew.
But how offensive is the script in question?
Enter The Hollywood Reporter. The outlet got its hands on the script and shared some key passages. The reporter’s description of not just the script but the circumstances around it are funnier than anything Ferrell could have done.
The article suggests:
- Lena Dunham, James Brolin and John Cho are “A-list” stars.
- The script is “well-researched” despite ignoring the realities of Reagan’s condition.
- The narrative is “good natured” … even though it’s designed to systematically mock not just Reagan but his administration and its accomplishments.
Team Ferrell may have insisted “it is by no means an ‘Alzheimer’s comedy,'” but the proof is in the script. Everything hinges on the fact that Reagan has no clue where he is, who he’s talking to or what he’s doing.
Why? Because he’s suffering from dementia. That makes it an “Alzheimer’s comedy,” no?
It’s a meaner variation of the attacks Ferrell launched against President George W. Bush. He’s an idiot, not a bad guy, Ferrell’s Bush impersonation suggested.
In this case, President Reagan isn’t at fault for his disastrous policies. Blame the dementia. If only the Soviet Union were still around to laugh about it.
Here are some key passages in the script, according to THR:
- The film’s protagonist, a young White House aide, is told to write everything down for the president – “even his name.”
- President Reagan keeps asking for “Mark.” His team finally realizes he means his “camera mark,” hearkening back to his Hollywood days.
- Similarly, the president is frequently heard lambasting a fictional wardrobe assistant named Libby. “I want Libby gone,” the president cries. His team, thinking he means “Libya,” orders a bombing attack on the nation.
Above and beyond the offensive approach, the film is a withering hit piece on the Reagan administration. We learn that in how the script categorizes its key players:
- Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger is dubbed “cartoonishly abusive … “all Brylcreem and forehead veins.”
- National security adviser Robert “Bud” McFarlane is called “nervous and shifty.”
- Chief of staff James Baker is described as having “hair plugs and nervous eyes.”
- Colonel Oliver North is “a dim-witted, cocaine-snorting party animal.”
- Dick Cheney, erroneous dubbed by the THR scribe as “vice president,” is a “menacing” politician already plotting George W. Bush’s presidency (which happens more than 12 years later.
- George W. Bush is portrayed as a “dolt.”
- The group, in toto, are referred to as an “inner circle of bumbling baddies,”
Is it any wonder Ferrell, a hardcore leftist, salivated over the project? His seething over Reagan’s legacy overshadowed the offensive nature of the satire.
The comic actor couldn’t see that.
Perhaps that open letter Patti Davis wrote to Ferrell really did touch his heart. It’s a shame such a letter was even necessary.