January 19, 2013

Dick (1999)
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams, and Dan Hedaya

You can't let Dick control your life.

Comments:  Dick is a quirky little comedy that came out in 1999 but never really made a splash or found much of an audience.  And if you watch it today, it is easy to see why.  It was a movie for forty year olds that they had to market to fifteen year olds.  It was a clever satire of politics in the 70's that can only work if you market it as a teen movie.  No wonder it flopped so badly at the box office.  

Out of all the movies that have ever been made in Hollywood, there are very few that were a harder sell from a marketing perspective than this one was.

If you are not familiar with this movie (and believe me, most people aren't), Dick is the story of two teenage girls from 1972 named Betsy and Arlene.  They are played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, who are both outstanding.

Betsy and Arlene

Betsy and Arlene are high school students in Washington D.C. in 1972, and they aren't particularly noteworthy high school students.  They aren't particularly bright high school students either.  As a matter of fact, according to one memorable quote in the movie, "I have met yams with more going on upstairs than these two."

Well Arlene happens to live in the Watergate Apartments in Washington D.C.   In 1972.  So you can guess where this is going.

One night Arlene and Betsy are sneaking downstairs to mail a letter to the Bobby Sherman Fan Club.  And in the process of sneaking around the building they accidentally run into the Watergate burglars.  They catch G. Gordon Liddy and his boys red handed as they are trying to break into the Democratic National Office.  Of course, being that they are teenage girls, Betsy and Arlene have no idea what they just saw or the implications of what this is about to mean.  All they know is that they saw some men doing something weird in a stairwell, and that they were yelled at and told to go home by some mean old guy with a mustache.

Sneaking out at night to mail a letter to Bobby Sherman

Well a couple of days later Betsy and Arlene are visiting the White House on a school tour.  And as they are taking the tour, it is pointed out to President Nixon that these are the girls who witnessed the Watergate break in last week.  

So Nixon immediately swoops in to do some damage control.

He befriends Betsy and Arlene.  And in an attempt to get them on his side, he offers them a job on his staff as his official White House dog walkers.  From here on out, they are allowed to come and go in the White House as they please.  All they have to do is come over every day and walk Checkers.  And not tell anyone or say anything about what they saw at the Watergate.  From now on, he wants them to be his super secret undercover Youth Advisors.

The President telling the girls they are his new super secret Youth Advisors

I don't want to spoil the rest of the movie for you, since so much of the fun in this movie is watching how it develops and how it intersects with real history, but let's just say that Betsy and Arlene become pivotal figures in the fall of President Richard Nixon, aka Tricky Dick.  

Or "Dick" as they call him, hence the name of the movie.

The girls who accidentally took down the President

Dick is one of those movies that I enjoy more and more the more times I watch it.  There are just so many fun little scenes in it.  And all the little details and character quirks and historical touches are absolutely perfect.  But it all starts with Betsy and Arlene.  This is one of those movies that is COMPLETELY dependent on the actors who are playing the lead roles, and Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are both spot on perfect.  I can think of very few actors who could pull off believable teenagers from the 70's as well as those two did.  

From start to finish the two of them completely own this movie.

Betsy trying to seduce a Secret Service agent with her new lip smacker

Arlene singing an Olivia Newton John song onto Nixon's secret recording tape

Arlene having a dream segment where she rides a horse with the President

Aside from Dunst and Williams, I should also point out that the guy who plays President Nixon (Dan Hedaya) is amazing.  In fact, if you read through the IMDB movie reviews, his performance is the one that gets singled out the most.  All you will see, review in and review out is "Fun movie, great 70's soundtrack.  Hedaya is amazing."  And he really is.  I'm not really old enough to know what Nixon was like in real life all that well (I was born in 1974), but everyone who IS old enough watches this movie and they tend to say the exact same thing.  Yep, that's Nixon.  Hedaya nailed it.

In fact, I have heard many people say that Hedaya's portrayal of Richard Nixon in Dick is the best impersonation of Richard Nixon ever.


"Checkers shut up, or I'll feed you to the Chinese!"

There is really no word to describe the movie Dick better than the word "fun."  It is just a fun movie.  From the acting, to the storyline, to the bizarre screenplay, to the wardrobes, to the soundtrack, it is just fun.  Oh, and that soundtrack.  Dick has an AMAZING soundtrack.  It is just wall to wall hits from the early 70's, and nearly every single one of them is perfect for the scene it is used in the movie.  I would easily put Dick in my top twenty movie soundtracks of all time.  

Again, I wasn't exactly alive in 1973, so I have no idea how accurate the soundtrack is for the time period.  But I have a lot of friends who WERE alive in 1973, and who in particular were teenagers in 1973, and they all say that the music is perfect.  One of the phrases I hear I lot when I hear people talk about this movie is "Wow, it was exactly like reliving my teen years."  Because apparently the clothes and the lingo and the background details are just as perfect as the music is.  Whoever made this movie really did their 1973 homework.

Right down to the wardrobes and the H.R. Haldeman haircut

Dick isn't what I would call a perfect comedy.  Even though it is only 90 minutes, it still feels like it is about 15 minutes too long.  And it never quite takes off into the stratosphere like most of the great comedies will do.  It just kind of hovers around the pleasant, fun, cute zone for most of the movie.  But still, it is a movie that in no way ever should have been a bomb at the box office.  Like I said before, it is a very clever and fun comedy for forty year olds that the studio had to market to fifteen year olds.  It is a good movie.  

There was just no way to market it.

Oh, and Woodward and Bernstein come off looking like complete tools

If you are a fan of cute little fun comedies, you should see Dick.  If you are a fan of Michelle Williams or Kirsten Dunst, you should see Dick.  If you are a student of American history at all, especially history from the 70's or political history, you should see Dick.  And hey, if you just want to see a clever little movie that is much more intelligent than it appears, you should see Dick.  It is one of those movies that I recommend to a lot of people, and nearly every person I recommend it to comes back and tells me that they liked it.  And this is particularly true for anyone who lived through Watergate and who remembers what the 70's were like.  This movie nails the early 70's right down to the egg shaped TVs.

And, of course, the clothing

In the end, Dick reminds me a lot of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.  It is movie about history that is way more intelligent and well written than you think it will be, but the storyline is so ridiculous and silly that it can only work if the lead actors are perfect.  And, well, just like Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are perfect in Bill and Ted's, Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are both perfect in Dick.  So both movies work much better than they should.

Also, both movies have great music, fun inside jokes, memorable dialogue, and a ton of perfect little background details.

See Dick.  It is a fun little movie.

It is time to stop being frightened of Dick.

An American tragedy

You suck, Dick

* My favorite IMDB user reviews about Dick:

Overlooked and hilarious - 15 February 2001
This was a huge bomb when it came out in 1999--it was badly advertised and disappeared quickly. That's a shame because it's a very fun movie. If ever a film should be rediscovered, it's this one. Two very dumb teenage girls (beautifully played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams) in the early 70s, get separated from their tour of the White House, and accidentally meet Nixon. They start walking his dog Checkers and, inadvertently, discover all about Watergate without even knowing it! It sounds silly (and it is) but damned if it doesn't work! Dunst and Williams are totally believable (and very lovable) as the teenagers. Dan Hedaya does a perfect interpretation of Nixon. As for everybody else, I couldn't tell you. I'm no whiz on Watergate and who Nixon's staff was in the 70s. But the script is sharp, everyone has wonderful comic timing and the best bits were done by Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch who make Woodward and Bernstein out to be total idiots. Also an excellent selection of 70s songs which always complement the action. The final gag played on Nixon is uproarious! Well worth watching.

One of the funniest movies I've ever seen -14 January 2000
I feel for those who had the unenviable job of marketing this movie. Who do you aim it at? Teens, most of whom know nothing about Nixon and Watergate, or adults, who will dismiss it as being another obnoxious, dumb teen comedy? Hence the box office failure. But what true hidden gem this film is! The writers have managed to put elements into this film that will be able to please the entire spectrum of viewers and knowledge of the Watergate scandal is not at all required to enjoy this hilarious film, but if you happen to have a grasp on its history, your enjoyment will increase tenfold. The performances of everyone involved are top-notch with special notice going to Dan Hedaya (Nixon dead-on)and Michelle Williams (watch her shy expressions and mannerisms as she develops her crush on Nixon. Priceless!). Many, many scenes left me laughing hysterically (the beach dream scene, Haldeman's interrogation of the girls, Hello Dolly meets Breshnev, Bernstein hovering over Woodward at the Post). Add great music, costumes, sets and a fitting ending, and you've got a great movie experience. Don't miss it!!! (And for a treat watch this as a double bill with ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN!)

All in good fun - 23 March 2008
I am a history teacher and if I tried to spot all the anachronisms and historical mistakes, this film would drive me crazy. However, it's all intended as good old silly fun and I had no trouble letting go of my usual habit of spotting the goofs.

The film is like combining a dopey teen comedy (such as CLUELESS) with history--in this case, the last years of the Nixon presidency and all its scandals. Again and again, these Forrest Gump-like airheads stumble into one plot after another and accidentally trigger the events that led to the exposure of the Watergate conspiracy. The film begins with the girls stumbling into G. Gordon Liddy during his burglary of the DNC office and culminate with their giving Dick Nixon a rousing send-off at the end of the film.

Of all the silly situations in the film, I particularly liked the movie's explanation for the missing 18 and 1/2 minutes on the Nixon tapes as well as the way Woodward and Bernstein were portrayed. However, these are just two of many silly and cute moments.

Overall, a great laugh--particularly for those old enough to notice all the references in the film (such as the plumbers and Checkers--who was a Cocker Spaniel, not a pointer, by the way).

like seeing my teen years again - 21 June 2006
Loved this - like walking through my HS yearbook, looking at the clothes, hearing the music. Especially loved the scene where Arlene and Betsy talk about their white house experiences to two VERY different teachers - Betsy gets kudos from her hippie teacher who thinks it is all a very creative writing endeavor, and poor Arlene is vilified by her strict old school English teacher for writing a treason-filled paper about the president. I -SO- remember having teachers from both ends of the spectrum like that.

I probably was about 15 during Watergate, and I think the depiction of these girls at that age, relating to the politics of the era (at first no interest), then as it started to affect them - (brother possibly drafted), the awakening of interest and action, was right on target for the way I was.

The laughs are fun, the girls do well, as do so many of "the boys" from Canada, and Will Ferell and others. Great soundtrack also.

A total charmer - 3 April 2001
I have to say that this film plays out like a dream if you enjoy seeing Kirsten Dunst really rip into a role. It's wildly uneven, but there are so many sweet moments of confusion, with double-entendres and minor drug jokes to boot. It's a fun show to see Dunst as well as Michelle Williams wonder through the Watergate scandal, at first sheepishly and by accident, but slowly changing their motivation to the bigger issues. This is a coming of age film that functions as political satire. Dan Hedaya is also an appropriate Nixon for this film, taking on the role with enough conviction to make us forget who he is as an actor. There are many parts of the film that are classics in their own right, such as Williams' slowly falling for "Dick" and what was really deleted from the 18 1/2 minutes of tape.

Overall, this is a very cute film that is lighter than air to watch. The joy of watching Dunst and Williams going through an odyssey of the dark side of politics is something that could warrant many viewings of this film. It's not necessarily a great film, but it is one that you could watch 20 times without it losing much of its charm.

Very enjoyable warped time-capsule - 21 November 2000
"Dick" is one of the most truly enjoyable comedies I've seen in quite some time. Some part of that reaction is surely attributable to the fact that I grew up watching the whole Watergate scandal unfold, but--to some extent--the movie works regardless of your familiarity with the details of that time period.

Saul Rubinek as Kissinger is side-splitting, Dan Hedaya as Nixon is just about perfect, and Harry Shearer, Will Ferrell and the two leads all hit the right notes in their portrayals (or, in some instances, caricatures). My favorite bit, among many, is the real story of the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Nixon tapes. The occasional direct parodies of All the President's Men (obviously the serious movie to see about these events) are also excellent. Nice integration of mostly very familiar songs into the narrative and as background.

If you weren't fortunate (really!) enough to live through all this, and can extrapolate from the comedy into how this all might really have come down, this really is about as close as you can get to both the seriousness of the situation and the relative underlying innocence of the seventies.

Love this one - 7 July 2012
This is one of my favorites, and I watch it every few years. Obviously,this was an important event in history, and one that has achieved mythical status. Clearly it was ripe for satire. And, if you lived through this era, you probably have preconceived ideas about this whole Watergate thing. But, then you watch Dick.

It's a totally funny satire, and it has good performances from a lot of quality actors-- some pretty early in their careers. Plus, it has a great soundtrack! I also appreciate the decor-- all that grass cloth and polyester.

You can't let dick control your life! So true.

* My favorite quotes from Dick:

Arlene Lorenzo: How dare those people treat us like we're stupid teenage girls.
Betsy Jobs: We -are- stupid teenage girls.
Arlene Lorenzo: No. We're human beings, and we're American citizens. And four score and seven years ago our forefathers... did something.

Dick: Checkers, shut up. Or I'll feed you to the Chinese.

Henry Kissinger: Excuse me, Mr. President. I was not informed that you were in the middle of... what the hell ARE you in the middle of?

[Betsy and Arlene angrily resign from Nixon's staff]
Betsy Jobs: Because you kicked Checkers... you're prejudiced... and you HAVE A POTTY MOUTH!

Arlene Lorenzo: We have a very important school report on turquoise jewelry due in two days, and we can't find any books on it, and the President's having us followed. It's too much pressure.

Betsy Jobs: Checkers pooped.
Rose Mary Woods: Girls, the President's dog doesn't "poop." He "does his business."

[Betsy and Arlene angrily confront Nixon in the Oval Office]
Arlene Lorenzo: We think you haven't been completely honest with us.
Dick: Let me tell you, if it's about that goddamn Watergate! I tell you, I had NOTHING to do with it, you hear? It's those goddamn Woodward and Bernstein! They're out to get me!
Arlene Lorenzo: [Stunned silence] Actually it was just about the dog.
Betsy Jobs: You act like you like him. But we don't think you do.
Dick: What dog?

Henry Kissinger: It's alright, gentlemen. I'm familiar with these two young ladies. Well, not "familiar", familiar, obviously.

Arlene Lorenzo: Dick frightens me!

[Betsy and Arlene spot G. Gordon Liddy in the White House]
Betsy Jobs: Hey, that guy has T.P. stuck to his shoe.
Arlene Lorenzo: Hey, mister! Hey! Hey, you, hey turn around, mister!
G. Gordon Liddy: Young lady, I am a VERY busy man.
Arlene Lorenzo: Wait a minute, I know you.
Betsy Jobs: Me too. But from where?
[thinks for a second, then gasps]
Betsy Jobs: Are you the guy who sells corndogs at the mall?

Mrs. Spinnler: Because of your thoughtlessness, we've missed the field trip lunch at McDonald's - which the students on the other buses are now enjoying. We will return to school, for a *cold* lunch. In the cafeteria.

Betsy Jobs: Are you the President's dog trainer?
John Dean: I'm John Dean, Chief White House Council.
Betsy Jobs: Oh. That's too bad.

Dick: I've got a way with young people. They trust me.

* My favorite scene in Dick:

The end of the movie is great, but my two favorite scenes in Dick are the scene at the beginning where the schoolteacher tells the class about their White House field trip ("We will be going in the White House".  *class is silent*  "Then afterwards we will be having lunch at McDonalds."  *class cheers*).  And I absolutely love Arlene's dream segment where she falls in love with Nixon and they ride around together on a white horse on the beach.  I love whoever came up with that montage and set it to Love's Theme.

There is one other funny little moment in the movie that always makes me smile.  Nixon is taking Arlene and Betsy on a tour of the White House, and for whatever reason he thinks that he knows what young people in America will be impressed by.  So as he is walking by a painting on the wall he says something like "Oh, and here's a nice painting of a bowl."  It is just a quick little random one liner, but it is so stupid and so perfect for Nixon that I always watch for it.

Dick at the IMDB

Dick at Wikipedia

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