Almost 20 Years Later, ‘Dick’ Still Holds Up
There has never been a better time to watch Dick.
Just kidding, it has ALWAYS been a great time to watch Dick, but at least there’s now there’s some context around why you should watch this movie. It’s an extremely funny and delightfully clever movie that never really found the audience it deserved.
It wasn’t too long ago when we thought Watergate was the biggest political scandal in the history of the United States. And you don’t have to look very far to find someone drawing comparisons to what happened then to what is going on now. But besides it being a template from which we’ve named all subsequent scandals for the past 40-plus years, how much do you really know about the details of Watergate? Enter, Dick (sorry).
Okay, so it’s not actually about Watergate. It’s more like the events of Watergate are happening while the story of two plucky teenage girls, Betsy and Arlene, played by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, is happening alongside it. While the two storylines start out running parallel, sort of gently touching one another, they ultimately get completely tangled up, with Betsy and Arlene being responsible for bringing the truth about the Nixon administration to light and his eventual resignation.
Dick takes all the pieces of the scandal and this time period and expertly and hilariously pins them on the (mostly) innocent happenstances of these two girls. Like when they very politely ask Nixon to end the Vietnam War. And Deep Throat, the secret informant that gave information to The Washington Post? That was them. Or what about the peace accord finally reached between Nixon and leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonoid Brezhnev? Betsy and Arlene were behind that when they unknowingly baked pot brownies for the president, who then shared him with his guests. Given our current situation, this scene is particularly enjoyable to watch play out.
It’s not entirely clear who this movie was originally for when it was released in 1999. Because how would you even categorize it? Teen political comedy? High school historical revisionism? Neither one of those quite captures what this movie really is, nor does it sell anyone on watching it. As much as I loved this movie, I don’t remember it ever being in theaters or hearing about it when it was released. Instead, I stumbled upon it on a shelf in Blockbuster, immediately drawn to it because it had a funny title and starred Capeside’s resident bad girl. Two things that, again, probably turned people away who probably would have loved it before they ever had a chance to see it also stars Will Ferrell as Carl Bernstein, Ana Gasteyer, Dave Foley, Harry Shearer, Jim Breuer, and Ryan Reynolds.
Sure, this is just a goofy movie, but watching it now inspires a sense of hope that I don’t think the people behind Dick could have ever imagined when they were making it. When watching through the lens of the political climate we are currently living in, the final scene is especially satisfying.
It’s unclear whether or not Williams and Dunst’s characters completely understood the impact or the gravity of all their actions as they were unfolding, but we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them as just plucky teenage girls the way I did a few paragraphs ago. In fact, I’d like to think Betsy and Arlene grew up and are now running Teen Vogue.
(Bonus! Though it’s not streaming on any platforms right now, if you live in New York City, Dick is playing at the IFC Center all weekend as part of its Autocratic for the People: An Unpresidented Series of Star-Spangled Satires series.)