On the Experience of Seeing "W"

I went to a press screening of W, Oliver Stone's new George W. Bush biopic, last night in L.A. I do not want to say too much about the film itself or my assessment of it yet, but you can read my review on Christianity Today's movies website on Friday.

I will say that it was one of the most interesting movie-going experiences I've had in a long time. The theater was completely full, both with press and average filmgoers. Leonard Maltin was sitting a few rows ahead of me, which was cool. Typical of a West L.A. arthouse movie audience, the crowd was largely partisan towards the left. The first time Dubya (Josh Brolin) showed up on screen, the crowd roared with laughter.

It was a strange atmosphere, though, because I got the sense that this crowd expected Oliver Stone to really destroy George W. Bush--to offer the definitive demonizing portrayal that so many Bush-haters have longed for. They didn't get that, and yet they got a really amazing, complicated film. The crowd didn't know what to do with it. It reminded me of films where the audience forces itself to laugh--and laughs overly loud at the truly funny moments because that's what they thought they signed up for.

In any case, there were a few notable reactions from audience members when the final credits rolled. A few people booed, Leonard Maltin sat mesmerized, and the guy behind me said "I never thought I'd say this, but I was actually charmed by George W. Bush."

For me, it was a strangely therapeutic experience. But I'll go in to that in my full review on Friday.

In the meantime, check out my new commentary on election year films, published yesterday on CT.