Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Funny or Die
Directed by Jeremy Konner
If we’re gonna keep getting subpar dreck like Dirty Grandpa, The Fifth Wave, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we might as well turn to the Internet for all our movie viewing needs… at least until Deadpool comes out, but AFTER that we can probably just hide away until March. So Funny or Die (the premiere site for famous comedians to post YouTube videos not on YouTube) has been secretly working on a Donald Trump movie and finally released it to the masses starring none other than Johnny Depp (the star of such classics as The Lone Ranger and A Nightmare on Elm Street) as the prominent business man in this adaptation of his most notorious literary contribution, The Art of the Deal. Does it manage to give us a satirical yet poignant look at the man who has taken over the public spotlight, or is this just a chance for even more people to jump on the Trump bandwagon before he flames out in the next couple of months? Let’s find out!!
The movie is presented to us as a Made for TV special (found by Ron Howard in a yard sale) that Donald Trump (Johnny Depp) directed, edit, and starred in among other duties he takes credit for that is a somewhat autobiographical tale based on his best-selling book The Art of the Deal (second only to the Bible in number of sales apparently). The framing device for Trump to espouse his philosophy on business as well as tales of his prior accomplishments is a kid who steals a copy of his book from a display and just so happens to evade the security guard by ducking into Trump’s office who takes this opportunity to mentor the boy for an afternoon. It just so happens to also be Trump’s fortieth birthday and his one goal in life (at least according to this movie) is the purchase of the Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City from Merv Griffin (Patton Oswalt) who’s not too keen to sell to the big blowhard… I mean brilliant business man. As Donald continues to try and goad Merv into selling, he goes on and on about his accomplishments with accompanying flashbacks and even gets his lawyer (Alfred Molina) to chime in every once in a while to reassure the kid of just how awesome of a life the orange demi-god standing before him has led. Will Donald get his hands on the Taj Mahal before the day is over? Will the kid learn a valuable lesson about business and negotiations along the way? Could anyone imagine a better time to release this than THE DAY that Trump won the New Hampshire primary!?
The movie is a solid comedy considering how much of a gimmick the whole enterprise is (someone made a joke Donald Trump movie), and manages to be more than just a meme generator or a noteworthy news story as I feel Funny or Die are apt to do sometimes. I remember they did a Star Wars Christmas Special a couple of months back that honestly fell a bit flat for me because they didn’t have many ideas outside of repeating some of the iconic imagery from the infamous special and putting a Force Awakens coat of paint on it just because Star Wars was a trendy thing at the time (and still is I guess). The gimmick is no less obvious here as Trump is currently running for the Republican presidential nomination, but this actually bothers to go into his history… to a certain extent. I’m sure you could make an ACTUAL biopic about this guy and it would be amazing considering all the insanity this guy has been a part of (most of it involving screwing people over and being a raging asshole), but for a fifty minute feature on a joke website, I think they got enough information out there about his past that many people may not be aware of. One story in particular about him suing the NFL and winning a total of one dollar for the law suit was probably the best example of this working as it was informative and hilariously realized from the point of view of Donald Trump.
Speaking of the man himself, Johnny Depp is absolutely hilarious in the role and is almost unrecognizable despite only sort of looking like Trump. Normally when he plays comedic roles, his characters exude a certain sense of competency or grace that puts them on a separate wavelength from the rest of the world. Jack Sparrow is an absurdly competent pirate who really only gets in his own way, Barnabas Collins is an immortal vampire badass but is befuddled by the social mores and technology of the 1960s, and even his portrayal of the half mad Hunter S Thompson always shows him being in control of his own drug fueled insanity. He’s really playing against type here as someone who THINKS he’s above it all, but is actually just a bumbling clown and Depp sells with a level of commitment that’s impressive for someone who doesn’t usually play characters this dumb. Everyone else in here does a fine job in the roles they have (Patton Oswalt has some great moments and I love Kristen Schaal as the voice of his assistant) but Depp is the real star here and deserves all the credit he will inevitably get for this.
I also like what they do with the cinematography here by making it look like a movie straight from an eighties VHS as the style goes very well with Trump’s ‘classy’ veneer. There are lots of cuts to flashy graphics which only enhance the shallow nature of the man behind the camera (Trump in terms of the premise) and the fact that the only copy ever found has the visual quality of a Public Access recording on a VHS that was already recorded on seven times prior only adds further details to the portrait the movie is painting of the guy. It’s not perfectly realized as the whole thing is in widescreen and some of the visual effects look very modern, but it was a great idea to give it a unique identity and no doubt helped with the budget as something more traditionally shot (or corrected in post) would be noticeably cheap looking.
There are some faults here to be sure and while the movie as it does maintain a consistent level of quality throughout (no particular groaners or ill-conceived moments), I never had any laugh out loud moments and there aren’t that many moments or themes that really stuck with me after watching it. It’s an excuse to rip on a noteworthy person who frankly deserves it, but it’s not as politically scathing as you would expect, especially considering Adam McKay’s involvement (not exactly clear HOW involved, but Funny or Die is his and Will Ferrell’s website) who showed us first hand EXACTLY what he thinks of this rich douche bags with his movie The Big Short last year. One thing that bothered me a bit is that they don’t stick to the premise very well. The idea is that this a product of Donald Trump’s own ego as he stars in a movie about himself and casts others (playing real life people he knew) to praise him incessantly. However, the movie doesn’t always go along with this as characters on screen (who are supposed to be Trump’s actors) slight him all the time and there are even scenes where he himself says unflattering things such as when he asks his assistant if anyone left any birthday messages and it turns out no one did. Why did he write that in the script? Wouldn’t he have Ronald Reagan or Don Johnson have called him if he was in charge of the story? It flips between this being a movie created whole cloth from Donald Trump (the better parts of the movie in my opinion) and a Saturday Night Live style sketch where he plays the fool in his own biography. It’s obvious why they made that compromise here (fit in more jokes at his expense) so I won’t really knock it too much for that, but it is something I thought they could have avoided doing, especially since that tends to be the weaker material. The best scene in the entire movie is when Trump is in the bathroom which perfectly encapsulates all the disparate aspects of the man as he sees himself, as he wants us to see him, and how we end up seeing him. There’s so much going on in that two minutes from his comically over the top acting all the way to his directing decisions that it shows just how much potential the movie has when it’s about how he’s trying to show himself to the world, and I wish the movie would have had more moments like this.
Also, the movie just kind of loses its way at the end as it goes far beyond a happy eighties movie finale into outright absurdism that breaks the fourth wall in a blunt and unsatisfying way. They stick Christopher Lloyd in here as Doc Brown (are we supposed to believe Donald Trump hired him for this role?) to do some time travel shtick and bring the story back to Trump’s presidential campaign. It all feels unnecessary and like the writers didn’t know how to end the damn thing so they threw everything at the wall to see what stuck. Spoiler alert: not very much.
Despite it having some inconsistency throughout and a lackluster ending, it’s still an enjoyable ride and is downright inspired when it’s firing on all cylinders. Johnny Depp has been stumbling lately with some poor decisions and lackluster performances, and while I don’t think this is going to do much for him in the long run, it at least proves that the guy still has passion for what he does and nails Donald Trump in this by giving some genuine nuance to such a bombastic caricature of a person. Will this have any impact on the election? Doubtful considering that most Trump supporters are behind him for the long haul (and more than a couple probably think Hollywood is one big liberal conspiracy) but it’s an entertaining look at a guy who’s managed to overtake the political discussion for the last few months and will hopefully burn himself out soon enough. If nothing else, this movie has gotten me VERY interested in a Trump biopic that gives him a proper and in-depth savaging for the horrible things he’s done in his life, and I’d love it if Oliver Stone did to this guy what he did to Bush in W. Until then though, this is a solid comedy that’s definitely worth watching, especially considering you can see it for free, unlike the numerous horrible comedies in theaters right now. Save yourself a trip from something like Dirty Grandpa or Fifty Shades of Black to watch this, the greatest and most excellent movie to star the best-est business man of all time. Trust me on that. I know a guy.