‘Game Change’: An Almost-Sympathetic Sarah Palin

Granted, HBO’s Game Change is no great feat of filmmaking. It offers little new insight into the Sarah Palin origin story. And yet I found it compulsively watchable, for two related reasons: because Palin makes for good TV, even when she’s being portrayed by someone else; and because Julianne Moore is doing the portraying.

Palin is no feminist icon, no matter what she tries to tell you. But her story is laced with feminist implications, and that’s what made revisiting this terrifying episode in our history — you know, that time when she was almost a heartbeat away from the presidency — compelling to watch with the added insight of retrospect. She was recruited by the McCain campaign, we are told clearly by the film, because the Republican senator was woefully behind in polling with women. And yet she was the epitome of setting back the women’s movement: More anti-choice than her running mate, she refused to even stand on a stage with someone who was pro-life. Not to mention that she did women no favors with her lack of basic current-events knowledge, an unfortunate pairing with her stellar looks. It all only compounded the worst female stereotypes: She was, we learn, a dumb broad with loads of sex appeal and charisma.

But we also get the feeling from the film that she’s a simple woman who loves her family genuinely and got in over her head. If we believe the narrative of the movie, she was an object, used freely by the men running McCain’s campaign. We need ladies votes? Get us any woman! Especially a pretty one whom the camera loves. She was a woman in waaaaay over her head who, as Moore portrays her, tries to assert her power in all the wrong ways. She bosses her staff around and blames them for her gaffes.

This was an almost-human Palin, and for that, the film may have actually served her well among the undoubtedly predominantly liberal audience who’ll end up watching it. She’s condemned the film, and no doubt she wouldn’t love the picture it paints of her. But just watching Moore as Palin react to Tina Fey laying waste to her persona on Saturday Night Live conjured up more sympathy in me than I’ve ever had for Palin. Though I still won’t call her a feminist, I feel for Palin’s historic predicament. Call her the Britney Spears of politics.


Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded SexyFeminist.com, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong


  1. Jenna says:

    I was wondering how Game Change would portray Palin. I feel bad for the way the media treated her (and treats all female politicians) but also hate her politics. This sounds like pretty decent to watch. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Claire says:

    Plain did get over her head in accepting the nomination as McCain’s VP. The transformation of her character throughout the movie was incredible, and Julianne Moore did an excellent job in her acting like Palin. To the point that I forgot it wasn’t her.

    It was a great movie, and I got sucked into the drama of the election all over again. It was neat to see the perspective of the Republican party from the inside.

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