Review: Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal (Funny Or Die)
Mark Harrison | On 13, Feb 2016
Director: Jeremy Konner (or Donald J. Trump)
Cast: Johnny Depp, Patton Oswalt, Alfred Molina, Michaela Watkins and Ron Howard
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! I can build you a much nicer one…”
Johnny Depp has really made every effort to disappear into his characters in the last few years, with extremely mixed results from his make-up-abetted performances. But next to the good (Black Mass), the bad (Mortdecai), and the weird (his recurring role as Guy LaPointe in Kevin Smith’s True North trilogy), his starring role in a secret biopic of Donald J. Trump is our favourite thing he’s done in years.
The parody purports to be a lost TV movie about Trump, written, directed by and starring the celebrity businessman, and presented by film preservationist Ron Howard (playing himself), after he fought a woman named Jenny for it at a yard sale. Funny Or Die posted the 50-minute film the day after Trump won the Republican presidential primary in New Hampshire and in the context of current events, it works a little like a supervillain origin story.
But under the direction of Jeremy Konner, it would be more apt to call it the biggest episode of Drunk History ever made. So far, his presidential campaign has been riddled with flabbergastingly horrible soundbites that would sink any candidate with a modicum of shame. These provide plenty of dialogue, but the story comes straight out of Trump’s own 1987 self-help book The Art Of The Deal, as well as the ridiculous stuff that people seem to have forgotten he did around the time that the film is set.
It starts when a young boy stumbles into Trump’s office on his 40th birthday, clutching a copy of the book on which the film is based. The tycoon takes some time out of obsessively trying to wrest the Taj Mahal casino from tight-fisted Merv Griffin (Patton Oswalt) and reminiscing with his lawyer (Alfred Molina) to teach the boy a subjective lesson in how he started from nothing but a piffling $1 million loan from his father and got to where he is now – via a mix of institutional racism, endless litigious pursuits of people who got on his bad side and the demolition of lots and lots of buildings.
Depp’s performance is stunningly good – it’s the kind of impersonation work that would pass muster on Saturday Night Live, rather than an Oscar-calibre turn of any description, but he fully commits to the comedy. His Trump is a risible figure and he can’t help but look ridiculous, even in his own classless hagiography. But just like some of the best comic characters, there’s a sadness to him as well, as seen in an aside in which they actually try to diagnose what’s wrong with him, immediately followed by him talking to the off-screen crew and demanding they replace the Mexican child actor playing his enthusiastic mentee.
He’s surrounded by a bevy of brilliant comedians and actors. Oswalt is gleefully weird as the eccentric millionaire; Michaela Watkins wears the heck out of a big dopey grin throughout all of Trump’s dismissive treatment of her Ivana Trump, and Molina gamely chews both the scenery and, at his client’s urging, the imaginary penises of his enemies. Also joining in the fun are 30 Rock alums Kristen Schaal and Jack McBrayer as over-worked underlings, Stephen Merchant in a very silly turn as Barron Hilton and web comedy stalwarts, such as Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and Rob Huebel.
Adam McKay, one of the co-founders of FoD, currently has The Big Short in cinemas, in which his affinity for films about idiot men was channelled into white-hot articulate rage about the financial crash, to the tune of five Oscar nominations. McKay’s and Konner’s films would make a strong double feature, but where The Big Short gets mad as hell and isn’t gonna take it any more, The Art Of The Deal is content to damn Trump by his own behaviour and personality and get huge laughs in the process.
The myopic biopic doesn’t have to fabricate much for comedic purposes, so it’s inevitably a little disappointing whenever they do. There’s a hysterical aside in which 1980s TV puppet ALF is the best man at Trump’s wedding, but a last-minute cameo by a character from another movie feels more of the Family Guy school of random comedy and shatters the bonafide feel that the film builds up.
From the 80s-tastic Kenny Loggins theme tune onwards, The Art Of The Deal takes perverse pleasure in building a very silly portrait that’s 10 times more appealing to watch and listen to than the real thing. Trump is going to be all over the news in the US in the run-up to the election and while this could have felt like an extended YouTube skit, it’s boosted by its perfect timing, quoted and quotable writing and a cast who are game to say absolutely horrible things with gusto.
Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal (Funny Or Die) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.
For more on Donald Trumps’ The Art of the Deal, head to Funny or Die.