Variety announced this week that comedian Will Ferrell will star as Ronald Reagan in a movie described as a “hilarious political satire” about the former president’s onset of Alzheimer’s. Welcome to the lowest depths of contemporary comedy.
Screenwriter Mike Rosolio has penned a script that is apparently so popular in Hollywood that it was voted into the 2015 Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays. Here is the logline for Reagan: “The story begins at the start of the ex-president’s second term when he falls into dementia and an ambitious intern is tasked with convincing the commander-in-chief that he is an actor playing the president in a movie.”
I have not read the script, so if the movie proves me wrong I will happily apologize. But it is hard to imagine that comedian Will Ferrell, noted for his denigrating impressions of George W. Bush and his progressive activism at the comedy site “Funny or Die,” will portray Reagan as anything other than buffoonish.
A live table reading of the screenplay featuring Lena Dunham as Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and John Cho as the intern protagonist was held back in March (Ferrell was not attached to the project at the time). Showbiz website TheWrap reports that the reading “was very well-received.” Of course it was, because frankly, the Hollywood left finds the notion of depicting the former actor Reagan as an addled Norma Desmond in the White House to be side-splittingly funny.
A darkly funny satire is one thing (for a good satire about an American President, try Being There), but no matter who the victim is, the idea of an “Alzheimer’s comedy” (that’s actually how TheWrap described it) is beyond tasteless. Let’s be honest, though: the only reason Hollywood finds the concept acceptable is because it targets a revered conservative icon.
The filmmakers surely knew that the film’s concept would outrage at least half the country. As a conservative myself, who believes that Ronald Reagan was the greatest President in my lifetime, I’m not whining about the movie simply because it ridicules a sacred cow of mine; I’m complaining because it is vile to ridicule the man on the basis of his affliction. If Barack Obama were suffering from Alzheimer’s, I would be just as disapproving of a movie about that (although we all know such a movie would never even be considered in left-leaning Hollywood).
Furthermore, the movie will alienate not just conservatives, but anyone whose life has been touched by Alzheimer’s, as well as anyone who simply has a standard of decency. Because politics aside, an Alzheimer’s victim is no more appropriate a central character for comedy than an AIDS victim. This movie will bomb, so one has to assume that the Reagan filmmakers green-lighted this travesty as a perverse sort of virtue-signaling to others of their political stripe in Hollywood.
Comedy once was used to bring people together. Nothing unites and uplifts people like laughter. Comedians in my youth recognized this, and aimed to entertain a broad audience. Today, comedy has tragically (pun intended) become politicized and divisive—sometimes grotesquely and viciously so, as in the case of Reagan. Giving offense seems to be the preferred intent of many comics today, but since young audiences now are so straightjacketed by political correctness that they take offense at almost anything, comedians hone in on the only target still culturally acceptable to ridicule: conservatives. Comics like Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, and Will Ferrell go out of their way to offend and alienate half the population instead of finding humor in the themes of our common humanity.
Political humor is a legitimate and even vital form of social commentary. Any president’s policies are fair game. Screenwriter Rosolio could have chosen to focus on Reagan’s policies and make a movie even conservatives could enjoy. But linking those policies to a terrifying and heartbreaking disorder that ultimately (in conjunction with pneumonia) killed the ex-President, and that still ravages minds, bodies, and families today, is a bridge too far.
As a society, we must voluntarily pull back from a bottomless pit of tastelessness. We can protect free speech but still hold ourselves accountable to standards and boundaries. The Reagan filmmakers have the right to make their movie, and we have the right to turn our backs on it.
Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis witnessed her father’s suffering and has since gone on to run a support group for those affected by Alzheimer’s. On her website, Davis penned a devastating open letter to Will Ferrell in which she asked him how he intended to explain to the victims of Alzheimer’s and their families “how this disease is suitable material for a comedy.” Perhaps, she suggests, to prepare for the role, “you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there.”