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McCain was a perfect cameo for Wedding Crashers

Why John McCain was a perfect political cameo for Wedding Crashers
(Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

One week before John McCain passed away, the Paramount Network happened to screen his lone theatrical film appearance.

Not all TV airings of 2005’s Wedding Crashers leave in McCain’s uncredited guest spot, opposite James Carville. Some channels file that under the throwaways when condensing the presentation to accommodate commercials and whatever is airing next.

But as the way the public views the 13-year-old film changes with the times, that minute has its place.

Fundamentally, McCain and Carville are there to formalize the title antiheroes’ daring entry into the big time. After a montage of salacious shenanigans, they have decided to cap their “season” at the wedding of treasury secretary William Cleary’s (Christopher Walken) eldest daughter.

And there they see just a snippet of the federal movers and shakers. The camera captures a noticeably awed Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) and his shared perspective with John Beckwith (Owen Wilson). The who’s who before them reaffirms Jeremy’s previous statement that “this is the Kentucky Derby of weddings.”

For McCain, who spent 35 years in elected office until his death this past Saturday, it was all-round normalcy. He was certainly no stranger to Washington weddings in real life. And in this scripted sequence, he could play himself as well, if not better than any Capitol Hill contemporaries.

After all, he did the same on the small screen countless times. The Internet Movie Database ascribes three official acting stints plus 143 as “self.” Most of the latter come from network and cable news interviews. But a sizeable portion are pure entertainment, albeit mostly political satire.

In a syndicated Monday write-up, the Washington Post’s Travis M. Andrews declared Wedding Crashers one of McCain’s “surprising cameos.” Andrews has a point when he reminds us of the film’s basic nature. When you remember that, distinguished public servants do look a tad out of place.

But Andrews is a few inches off base when he calls the cameo “completely unnecessary.” Technically speaking, saying that “The audience can’t even really hear either of the famous political men speak” is also incorrect. McCain clearly tells Secretary Cleary, “congratulations.” Carville adds the adage that their kids “grow up so (darn) fast.”

Sure, those words and whoever says them are of no crucial value to the storyline. Nonetheless, this blending of Beltway reality and realistic fiction stands as a refreshingly sterile scene in an otherwise debatable project.

For now, let us set aside the retroactive and understandable controversies surrounding the movie’s main thrust. We can easily agree that Jeremy and Gloria Cleary (Isla Fisher) are both horrible. They are therefore meant for each other in the most twisted possible way.

Conversely, John proves himself more redeemable. As it happens, his turning point coincides with McCain and Carville’s minute on screen.

The middle Cleary daughter, Claire (Rachel McAdams), appears and joins the pleasantries with the high-end guests. As John looks on, he is visibly smitten. He is already building on prior misgivings about being “irresponsible,” and toward his climactic declaration, “I’ve changed.”

For the better part of the movie’s balance, he finally starts using 10 percent (or more) of his heart.

How does a veteran viewer of the movie not think about that when McCain’s fellow senators laud his exemplary stances? That now supposedly extinct immunity to pettiness and stooping below civility?

John’s subsequent quest to dis-Lodge Claire’s engagement to Sack (Bradley Cooper) takes us through a stream of political ambiguity. Although it is far from pure, one cannot deny it is comparatively refreshing.

By the mid-2000s, John McCain ought to have been in the top echelon of any Washington wedding invite list. If Wedding Crashers was not going to stick strictly with fictitious figures, he was the most logical guest politician.

There is only so much the Cleary bloodline’s past association with Franklin Roosevelt and the secretary’s position paper can divulge. Meanwhile, as Jeremy observes, Sack is paradoxically both “Mr. Environmental” and “a hunter.”

In short, as soon as the title buddies mix themselves in with these D.C. fixtures, politics is inescapable. Yet there is no way to pinpoint anyone’s party or ideology.

Among real-world figures, there was no better pair to step in and set that partisanship-aside tone.

Carville was a sound choice by virtue of is own actual marriage. A veteran Democratic strategist and commentator, he and conservative Mary Matalin have stayed together for a quarter-century.

Then there was Arizona’s senior senator, who at the film’s release was coming off his election for a fourth term. His unique reputation was well established. Long dubbed a “maverick,” McCain had often been subject to rumors of an impending party switch.

He had even contemplated seeking a role on the Democratic side of the 2004 presidential race. He said as much in a TV interview in March of that year. (As it happened, that was the same month Wedding Crashers began seven-and-a-half weeks of filming.)

McCain ultimately remained a Republican, even attaining the party’s nomination for the following presidential election. But he rarely, if ever, lost his bipartisan appeal with his colleagues.

That made him easy to join in any apolitical setting. It also made him a go-to guest on sitcoms, dramas, variety programs and late-night talk shows.

Likewise, by the mid-2000s, it ought to have put him in the top echelon of any Washington wedding invite list. If Wedding Crashers was not going to stick strictly with fictitious figures, McCain was the most logical guest politician.

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Al Daniel

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