Time: 123 Minutes
AWARDS: Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Bates) and Best Adapted Screenplay. Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor-Comedy (Travolta) and Best Supporting Actress (Bates).
This film is supposed to be about the 1992 presidential campaign of President Clinton, whether they want to admit it or not. A behind-the-scenes look at what politicians and their people will do and put up with just to get elected. Though funny, this was a scary, scary film on so many different levels. To begin with, though Travolta and Thompson swear they weren't doing Bill and Hilary imitations, it was fairly obvious from their performances where they got their inspiration. The funny thing is, as good as they were, they weren't the characters that made the film worthwhile (no big surprise to some). In fact, the main characters of the film were Henry, played by Adrian Lester, and Libby, played by Kathy Bates, playing the campaign advisors. They were the ones you cared about and wanted to spend time with.
Both were suckered in by Governor Stanton's "for the people" attitude, but as the campaign wears on, their attitudes wear thin from the constant spin control needed to clean up after the governor's messes (most having something to do with his bad behavior with various women). They want to trust and believe that even though this man has done, and continues to do, some shitty things in his personal life, he can still make a difference for the country. Things come to a head when they discover some horrible evidence of various wrongdoings on the part of the governor's main primary opponent. In order to test the morality of the future "first couple" they give them the documents and ask them what they are going to do with them. Though Stanton swore he wouldn't go negative, the secrets in the folder are too juicy to pass up. They would ensure his receiving the Democratic nomination and he and Susan have fought too hard not to use anything to win.
Unable to accept this turn of events, Libby threatens to go public with the fact that Stanton slept with his 17-year-old babysitter who has claimed that he's the father of her unborn baby. She believes he's not the father, but will tell the press that he was so unsure that he submitted his uncle's blood for the test in place of his own. Even that doesn't sway the Stantons, forcing Libby and Henry to quit the campaign. There are some surprise twists that I hate to admit tore at my heart. Bates and Lester give amazing performances that keep you glued to the screen. Travolta and Thompson were good (her accent was dead-on scary) but they were just playing real people, no matter how they complain otherwise. They also had much less screen time than you would assume. PRIMARY COLORS is more about the machinations of getting a man elected than the man himself. Which in the case of whom this story is based on is probably a good thing.
The situations they get in and out of are amusing though somewhat familiar and certainly not shocking compared to what we're used to. The thing that makes PRIMARY COLORS worth watching is it's characters and I do mean that in every sense of the word. If you like the lead actors and want a good laugh at the expense of Bill, you'll enjoy this film. Though I would have enjoyed it more if it was a half an hour shorter.