As is the case with several recent high-profile films, the hype surrounding Donald Trump’s First 100 Days has eclipsed the actual production. At this point, it’s almost impossible to separate the two—and why should we? When a network or studio goes around town comparing their new release to Casablanca or Citizen Kane, they deserve to be judged by the standards of Casablanca or Citizen Kane.
That’s why it’s so rich that Trump, the director, writer, and star of First 100 Days, has been on a press tour (that basically hasn’t stopped for nearly two years) condemning the media’s expectations of it.
“The hundred days is just an artificial barrier,” Trump said in an interview with the AP. “The press keeps talking about the hundred days. But we’ve done a lot. You have a list of things. I don’t have to read it.”
He continued: “But things change. There has to be flexibility... So you have to have a certain flexibility, Number One. Number Two, from the time I took office till now, you know, it’s a very exact thing. It’s not like generalities. Do you want a Coke or anything?”
We didn’t set those expectations, buddy. If you hadn’t had your press launch in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and promised to produce the greatest, most ball-busting political action caper of all time, we’d go into it expecting what we would have expected from any first time writer/director/actor—a sloppily executed, sanctimonious, 40-minute-too-long dramedy about being a white man in New York. But, if he’s going to call himself Woody Allen, we’ll give him the Woody Allen treatment.
In the preview, Trump promised his First 100 Days would feature an ambitious number of particularly heinous plot points (ask Congress to repeal Obamacare; have Mexico pay for a wall; get rid of DACA), and critics (myself included) got the impression that it would be kind of a campy slasher flick—that is, if it ever actually got made—bloody and misogynistic, but probably a little bit funny. Maybe the main character would look at the camera and wink, or say some kind of quip à la Steve Martin’s Dentist in Little Shop, as he dragged a woman into a shed.
But the rendering has lost most of the humor promised in the preview, and the First 100 Days was not an ostentatious celebration of American opulence and gluttony via the horror genre—instead, First 100 Days is more of a pre-war art film, and a clumsy one at that. It is cast exclusively with older white actors, the majority of whom are either has-beens or street-casted amateurs, and who uniformly bring no joy to the roles they were invited to fill. The writing is clunky and meandering, and the dialogue makes no sense at all. The protagonist is seemingly transfixed on the electoral vote count, a small expository detail about a vote that occurred chronologically before the film even begins. Why is he transfixed on this tiny detail, the importance of which is never explained to the audience? With that lack of intertextual explanation, we’re forced to conclude that there is no real reason for it, other than, perhaps, the writer had nothing else to say.
While Trump managed to muddle through several of the promised plot points, many are absent. His explanation for their absence remains bafflingly vague—there was no budget; the crew wouldn’t cooperate; we’ll see these in a sequel. But who has ordered a sequel? And who has the patience to sit through another 2,400 hours of bleak, self-indulgent cinema verité?
The only excitement of the film, other than the drawn-out tension of fearing that the next scene will be worse than the former (it always is), comes in the form of several gratuitous third-act explosions—a missile strike in Syria and a MOAB strike in Afghanistan—both of which read as desperate attempts to recaptivate a large portion of the audience that has, by this point, checked out. And it works at first; the missile strike ham-fistedly reminds viewers of other movies that have featured explosions, causing many of them to think, “I have seen other good movies with explosions in it, so this must be a good movie.” But it would appear that Trump anticipated that reaction as much as he got caught up in it; the MOAB follow-up seems like little more than an attempt to get the same audience reaction as the Syria missile scene. This also works for the Michael Bay fans among us, but it will not win over even slightly more discerning audiences. Plus, callously, Trump’s script doesn’t even attempt to explain the motivations of the characters bombed, nor does it seem to feel any need to display ideological consistency throughout the film, which results in some confusing plot points (the Syria missile strike was intended to defend Syrian civilians, who are also, for some reason, barred from entering the US).
And, not for nothing, the viewing experience left much to be desired, and was, at many points, downright unpleasant. The chairs were uncomfortable and kept creaking as if they were threatening to collapse under us. The entire time, my viewing companions and I were left with a kind of nervous nausea that has still not relented; one of them has been losing her hair, another’s eczema has come back. During the screening, several people who were seated so far back they couldn’t even properly see the screen were put in handcuffs and escorted out of the theater without explanation. Every 10 minutes the fire alarm would go off.
Ultimately, the First 100 Days is a sloppy, poorly conceived film devoid of message or philosophy. It’s a vanity project seemingly made with the sole purpose of giving the creator something to do. More startlingly is that throughout the First 100 Days, it becomes glaringly clear that the director doesn’t even like movies, nor does he particularly like himself or his own vision. So, we must ask: why did this movie even get made in the first place? And can we shut down the studio that greenlighted it?