Primary Colors (1998)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Film a Clef, Media Satire, Political Satire  |   Release Date - Mar 20, 1998 (USA)  |   Run Time - 143 min.  |   Countries - Germany , France , United Kingdom , Japan , United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Arriving in theaters shortly after the Monica Lewinsky scandal shed new behind-the-scenes light on the Bill Clinton presidency, Primary Colors was perhaps too much a film of its moment. Adapting Joe Klein's roman à clef about the 1992 presidential campaign, director Mike Nichols asserted that the story of a young campaign strategist's eye-opening experience on Southern governor Jack Stanton's White House run was more about general issues of personal and political honor than specific events. John Travolta's honeyed Arkansas drawl, graying hair and affection for donuts, however, left no doubt about Stanton's Clintonian roots; one or two journalists even questioned whether Clinton had tried to influence the film's content. Either way, critics agreed that while Nichols and long-time collaborator Elaine May mined sardonic humor out of the Stanton campaign's sexual shenanigans and dirty dealings, the final turn toward a serious message about the contemporary political process somewhat tempered the film's satiric bite. Despite enormous (and unexpected) publicity from the Lewinsky affair, and pitch-perfect performances from Travolta, Emma Thompson, Oscar nominee Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Adrian Lester, and Larry Hagman, Primary Colors failed to find a large audience, suggesting that one presidential media spectacle at a time was probably enough.