theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Andrew Fleming|
|Produced by||Gale Ann Hurd|
|Written by||Andrew Fleming
|Music by||John Debney|
|Edited by||Mia Goldman|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$6.3 million (US)|
Dick is a 1999 American comedy film directed by Andrew Fleming from a script he wrote with Sheryl Longin. It is a parody retelling the events of the Watergate scandal which ended the presidency of Richard ("Tricky Dick") Nixon and features several cast members from Saturday Night Live and The Kids in the Hall.
Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams star as Betsy and Arlene, two warm-hearted but not overly intelligent 15-year-old girls who are best friends, and who, through various twists and turns, become the legendary "Deep Throat" figure partly responsible for bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon. Dan Hedaya plays Nixon.
Betsy Jobs (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene Lorenzo (Michelle Williams) are two sweet-natured but somewhat ditzy teenage girls living in Washington D.C. in the early 1970s. Betsy comes from a wealthy family in the Georgetown area, while Arlene lives with her widowed mother in an apartment in the Watergate building. One night, on a quest to mail a letter to enter a contest to win a date with teen idol singer Bobby Sherman, the two girls sneak out of Arlene's home, at the same time as the Watergate break-in. They manage to enter and leave through the parking garage by taping the latch of a door, accidentally causing the break-in to be discovered. They are seen by G. Gordon Liddy (Harry Shearer), who they believe to be committing a jewel robbery; they panic and run away. The security guard, startled by the taped door, calls the police, who immediately arrest the burglars.
The next day, while at the White House on a school tour, they accidentally happen across Liddy again. They don't recognize him, but he recognizes them and instantly becomes suspicious. He points them out to H. R. Haldeman (Dave Foley), who proceeds to interrogate them; their conversation (in which it is revealed that the girls don't actually think about the President that much) is interrupted firstly by a phone call from Haldeman's wife, and secondly by President Nixon himself (Dan Hedaya), who takes Haldeman aside to complain about the bugging operation being so fouled up.
The girls are naturally awestruck at being in the same room as Nixon — but more awestruck at being able to play with his dog, which gives Nixon an idea. In order to keep their silence, he appoints them his official dog-walkers... which means they must be admitted repeatedly to the White House. On these visits they accidentally influence major events such as the Vietnam peace process and the Nixon-Brezhnev accord, by bringing along cookies that they have inadvertently baked marijuana into. (Near the end of the film, when Betsy's brother, Larry (Devon Gummersall), reveals the cookies' "secret ingredient" and realizes the President ate them, he concludes that this was likely a leading cause of Nixon's paranoia.) They also become familiar with the key figures of Nixon's administration, including the long-suffering, frequently ignored Henry Kissinger, and inadvertently learn the major secrets of the Watergate scandal without realizing what they know.
Arlene, previously infatuated with Bobby Sherman, now falls equally hard for the president. Just after reading an 18½-minute message of love into his tape recorder, she plays back another part of the tape and, after hearing his coarse, brutal rantings, quickly realizes his true nature. When they confront Nixon, he fires and threatens them.
The girls now reevaluate what they have learned and decide to reveal everything to the "radical muckraking bastards" (Nixon's words) at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward (Will Ferrell) and Carl Bernstein (Bruce McCulloch). So they become informants; two 15-year-old girls are the true identity of the famous Deep Throat (Betsy's brother had just been caught watching the film of the same name). Woodward and Bernstein — portrayed as petty, childish, and incompetent — are naturally skeptical of the two girls. To make matters worse, their only piece of physical evidence, a list of names of those involved from the Committee to Re-Elect the President, is eaten by Betsy's dog.
Nixon's men realize that the girls are a real threat and attempt tactics such as bugging and undercover agents to find out what they know, eventually going so far as to break into Betsy's house and plant an undercover agent as Arlene's mother's boyfriend. Eventually pushed to the limit after being chased by the Watergate "plumbers", the girls decide to take action: sneaking into Haldeman's house, they manage to find and steal a crucial tape recording. They give a transcription of it to Woodward and Bernstein (keeping the tape as a "souvenir") thus ending Nixon's political career. Nixon, finds Arlene's message on his tape and erases it, reasoning that he'd be "crucified" if it was perceived that he had an affair with a 15-year-old girl. After the resignation, as Nixon's helicopter flies over Betsy's house, the two girl hold up a sign depicting the phrase "You suck, Dick", further angering the now ex-president.
Writers Andrew Fleming and Sheryl Longin attempted to write several different scripts with teenage girls as protagonists. The idea of using the Watergate scandal came from a real-life experience Longin had with Nixon when her family stayed at the same hotel as Nixon. As a child, she and a friend pelted Nixon with ice cubes, causing a minor disturbance. Fleming said that he was surprised at the attempts to rehabilitate Nixon's image, and Longin cited the Watergate scandal as a defining political moment for their generation. She said she channeled the resulting anger and cynicism into the script. Several people told the duo that various gags went too far. Fleming, who believed Nixon got off easily, said they fought to keep everything. They approached Ben Bradlee and John Dean to play themselves, but both declined.
TriStar's marketing research indicated teenage girls were the film's biggest demographic, so promotional material focused on Dunst and Williams instead of the political aspects. Dick was released in the US on August 4, 1999. It grossed $2.2 million in its opening weekend, opening at #12 in 1522 theaters. It went on to gross $6.3 million in the US. It was released on home video in December 1999.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 70% approval rating; the consensus us: "A clever, funny slice of alternate history, Dick farcically re-imagines the Watergate era and largely succeeds, thanks to quirky, winning performances from Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Will Ferrell". Leonard Maltin gave the film three stars, calling it a "clever cross of Clueless and All the President’s Men". Todd McCarthy, in his review for Variety, called it an "audacious, imaginative political comedy" that will appeal more to adults than teenagers. Stephen Holden of The New York Times described it as "an uproariously dizzy satire" that was inspired by the Lewinsky scandal. Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said the film "is so sharp and funny it should appeal to all ages". Rita Kempley of The Washington Post described it as "more fun than you ever thought you'd have with Richard Nixon". The film's acting received critical commentary. Thomas positively compared Hedaya's performance to Anthony Hopkins in Nixon, and Kempley called Hedaya "no less adept" than Hopkins. Holden wrote that Hedaya's portrayal of Nixon is "the year's funniest film caricature". Thomas called Dunst and Williams "a constant delight".
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