The most enjoyable aspect of
Will Ferrell's impersonation of George W. Bush is the way he embodies
a somewhat abstracted "version" of the former President, rather
than simply mimicking his voice or body language. On Saturday
Night Live, Ferrell's Bush was infantile, impulsive, easily distracted
- like a very small child or a puppy. One sketch placed Ferrell's
Bush with Dana Carvey as Bush, Sr., on a hunting trip; Ferrell kept
picking up a pair of loose antlers and banging them together awkwardly
like a two-year-old. Another well-known bit had Bush in the Oval
Office, batting around objects on his desk like a kitten with a ball
of yarn. This interpretation of Bush was far more effective -
and funnier - than a bumbling Bush who made an exaggerated buffoon
out of himself. Since Bush did that well enough on his own, a
smart comedian like Ferrell was encouraged to take things in a different
Aired live on HBO in March
of this year, You're Welcome, America: A Final Night with George
W. Bush, is Will Ferrell's Broadway stage show, which ran at the
Cort Theater in New York City last winter. The show saw Ferrell
taking his Bush out of mothballs - Ferrell had left SNL in
2002 - and somewhat reshaping him. For the purpose of this 90-minute
one-man show, Ferrell has taken on much more of Bush's body language.
Since Ferrell is standing throughout the show in full view of the audience
(and not seated behind a desk or shot from the waist up, as he usually
was on SNL), he has adopted Bush's bent-kneed stance and partially-outstretched
arms. (I always thought Bush was trying to appear bow-legged,
as if he'd spent his youth on horseback, ropin' dogies.) In
any case, the physical aspect of Ferrell's Bush has become more accurate
- it occurred to me that although Josh Brolin's performance was
very good, Ferrell could have easily played Bush in Oliver Stone's
W. It's that refined.
The show is an auto-retrospective,
with Bush reflecting on his life and career. Ferrell wrote the
piece, and some bits shine more than others. The first fifteen
to twenty minutes drag, and are not funny. Ferrell seems more
concerned with the technical aspects of his performance - looking
and sounding like Bush - than in effectively delivering jokes.
But things pick up as the show begins to take liberties with Bush's
biography, digressing into fantasias upon a theme in sequences where
Bush muses about his life in the woods (during his "lost years"
of the early '70s) with someone named Dave Rothschild, or during a
dream-like dance duet with Condoleezza Rice. There are several
such sequences - rather than being bitingly satirical (which the show
is, at times), Ferrell prefers to take the Bush story in unexpected,
abstracted directions, reinforcing the absurd, cartoon-like qualities
of Bush's actual biography. Bush is not just being mocked here;
he is being ridiculed at a fundamental non-political level. The
moments in which Bush is directly "made fun of" are less effective
than these odd flights of fancy, wherein exaggerations are piled one
on top of another. Although I happen to believe that Bush is beneath
ridicule - and that "Bush jokes" are beyond tired - Ferrell,
at moments, gets at something strange beneath the surface of his character
that is connected to the same innocent idiocy that he touched upon in
his SNL sketches.
You're Welcome, America
isn't quite a one-man show. Ferrell's brother Patrick, plays
the Secret Service agent stationed on the stage's apron for Bush's
protection. During scene changes, the agent moves to center stage,
scanning the audience, and as the interstitial music picks up, he gradually
gives in to the temptation to dance. These numbers become increasingly
involved - and impressive - with each successive scene change.
There is also the brief but effective appearance by Pia Glenn as Condoleezza
Rice during the aforementioned dance sequence. Half pas de
deux and half lapdance, Glenn's sultry sashaying personifies the
notion that Rice is actually a wildwoman trapped beneath a Stanford-polished
Although likely not as long-lasting
a work as it could have been, You're Welcome, America is hilarious
at times - the sequence in which he assigns nicknames to members of
the audience, for example - but not entirely fulfilling. It's
entertaining, but not fortifying, and smart, even though the script
needed a more work. It's nice to see Will Ferrell, who is in
danger of doing too many underweight big-budget features, work out his
comedy chops in a new setting with a novel concept.
The enhanced 1.78:1 transfer is fine. The source material
dates from earlier this year, so the colors are deep, with the expected
degree of sharpness. The special was shown live on HBO, and there
are a few odd edits and zooms, as if cameras were not quite on their
cues. These little hiccups could have been fixed with a minor
amount of post-production to smooth out the visual presentation, but
were left intact.
The surround track is very good, although not spectacular.
A dialogue-driven live show barely even merits a surround track to begin
with. Nonetheless, HBO has taken the extra step and what we have
here is fairly immersive, recreating the ambience of the live audience.
Music is strong here, too, when it's used.
First is a short behind-the-scenes featurette called The Road
to Broadway that details how the show came to be. A second,
funnier piece is Bush on Bush, a split-screen "self-interview"
with Ferrell as Bush, times two. The exchange on good woods versus
bad woods is hilarious. Also included here is an unmemorable true-or-false
Bush-related trivia game titled It's Time Has Come of Being a Decider,
There is very funny material
in You're Welcome, America, and although the program takes
a while to get going, Will Ferrell hits some high points in this 90-minute
live performance. Although Bush-related comedy would seem to be
a thing of the past, Ferrell's wide-ranging, inventive rendition of
the former president is worth a look. Recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.