Pixel Tracker

Wednesday, January 23 , 2019, 11:11 am | Fair 61º


Cinema in Focus: ‘Swing Vote’

In this insightful study of family dynamics, an unlikely political event forces a father into self-discovery.

3 Stars — Challenging

When parents struggle with an addiction, it is their children who suffer by losing their childhood. Often having to fill the role of the parent as they “make life work” for their impaired father or mother, this “parentified child” can appear to have capabilities far beyond their years. Looking for a functioning adult to admire and help make sense out of life, such a child can attach themselves to a teacher and accept that teacher’s passion as their own. This is what happens to Molly Johnson (Madeline Carroll) in Joshua Michael Stern’s second film as director, Swing Vote.

Molly is the daughter of Bud Johnston (Kevin Costner) and lives with him in a trailer park in Texico, N.M. A single parent whose wife has left him, Bud is grieving the loss of his wife, Larissa (Mare Winningham), by masking his pain with alcohol.

Larissa is battling her own addictions, which caused her to leave her husband and daughter to “pursue a singing career.” The result is disappointing for the parents but devastating for their daughter. As Molly prepares Bud’s breakfast and attempts to get him out of bed from his hangover, it is clear that though she loves her father, he has lost his ability to care for her and his alcohol addiction has caused Molly to look to others for guidance.

The adult role model Molly has chosen is her teacher, Mrs. Abernathy (Mary Sue Evans). Teaching Molly the importance of civic responsibility, Mrs. Abernathy convinces Molly of the importance of voting. Having assigned her student the task of asking her father about his political views, it is clear that Molly knows far more than Bud about the upcoming presidential election. Asking him to meet her at the polling place after work begins an adventure that, though extremely unlikely, sets the stage for Bud to be the single voter who will choose the next president.

Though we won’t spoil the way the plot unfolds, the twisted humor of the film is based on the stereotype that politicians, or at least their campaign managers, are willing to do anything to be elected. The irony of this is amplified to absurd extremes as we see the Democratic candidate, Donald Greenleaf (Dennis Hopper), filming a graphic ad against abortion, and the Republican candidate, Andrew Boone (Kelsey Grammer), dedicating the river Bud fishes in as a national preserve rather than using it as an energy source.

A final lesson in the film is Molly’s concern for her father’s love life. Again showing her overly developed feeling of responsibility, Molly uses the ambition of a beautiful novice newscaster, Kate Madison (Paula Patton), to get her together with her father. The predicable outcome of this attempt collides with Bud’s need to become sober and responsible for Molly’s sake.

That any of us would find it overwhelming to be the person who chooses the next president of our nation is a fascinating premise that actually is a backdrop for a far more interesting study in family dynamics. As a study of one dysfunctional family, it is a film worth seeing.


» When the candidates changed their promises to get Bud’s vote, they were under the guidance of campaign managers. Do you believe we should change the way we elect presidents? What would you change?

» The overly-responsible behavior of Molly included a routine that she and Bud would perform to fool Social Services workers who would come to see if Molly was safe. How do you think we can help children who are not cared for by their parents if the children “fake it”?

» The temptation that Kate experiences to secretly tape Molly’s conversation when she comes to her out of sincere need presents the reality of “television news.” What do you believe we could do to help change this practice of using people’s pain and intruding on their privacy to make news?

Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.