5 Pitfalls of John Cusack’s Rush Project

As in Rush Limbaugh.

Script not done – well see what it’s looks like – could be good hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-cusa…

— John Cusack (@johncusack) November 4, 2012

I can only hope this focus on Private Parts in leaks to press is a head fake designed to keep dittoheads interested. The model of Private Parts is problematic because that was a fully authorized underdog hagiography. And if Rush doesn’t endorse the project (which I doubt he’d do unless he’s EP and/or gets huge gross points) then no dittoheads will pay Cusack to see it. Neither do I see reality-based Americans going to see it unless to gloat in the schadenfreude were it a tragedy, or to boo at his villainy.

So who are we rooting for and why? I don’t deny that there’s something epic about Rush’s story. But there’s so many ways this could go wrong.

Look at Oliver Stone’s Nixon. It was hard for me as a well-left-of-Obama liberal to go see Nixon, but it did work okay as a film. Joan Allen as Nixon’s wife served as the audience surrogate and so fully carried our emotional journey that she nearly won an Oscar. When the pathos peaks, as innocent daughter Julie (Annabeth Gish) blubbers “Daddy, you are the most decent person I know,” I was surprised to be genuinely moved. Nixon took on the resonance of classic tragedy. Tragedy requires the fall of a hero, and one of the achievements of Nixon is to show that greatness was within his reach. Environmental Protection Agency, detente with China, ending our occupation of Vietnam, affirmative action, Equal Rights Amendment, Clean Water Act, OSHA… all things I like. But Rush is not classically tragic. He won. He’s proof that in American politics there’s no repercussions for lies and hypocrisy. It’s not a tragedy. He’s a horrible monster. So perhaps an antihero is our model?

Therefore, a few other biopics come to mind. The People vs. Larry Flynt has Flynt pretty despicable. But in that one, there’s this undercurrent that grows into the driving force of the film, where he’s championing First Amendment rights for all Americans. As he fights harder for it, the more it redeems his character. “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, then it’ll protect all of you — ’cause I’m the worst,” he declares in court.

That route’s a trap too. Cusack knows Rush is not a champion of the common man. His master is the opposite. Plus, he’s a liar and hypocrite, and a racist and a sexist, and a war monger, and a cretin. So, look elsewhere. There are good movies about monsters.

Maybe Rush is more like Nick Cage in Lord of War. Track that script substituting Rush: You’d have a “college radio DJ-to-famous” first act in the 1980s. “Top of world” second act during the years of his hunting Bill Clinton. Third act would be “the crisis” – played out against Rush’s drug addiction and arrests. That’s an argument then for non-linear storytelling. The crisis needs to come early. Device-wise, we can learn about this crisis during drug rehab group therapy – each session leading into flashbacks. The question lingering: Why did he do drugs? Maybe.

If you did this route, we could come to understand that during the George W. Bush administration, with his drugs, Rush was numbing himself to the reality unfolding around us. In case we forget what was revealed in the lost decade of the aughts? Everyone, including Rush, finally saw what happens when purely conservative policies are enacted. Remember? Utter disaster and an obvious conclusion that Rush’s worldview is a total sham. And that’s why he did drugs.

The movie would need to culminate with a “will he or won’t he” moment right before he checks out of rehab. His pathetic choice was to keep up the facade and keep cashing in on fear and ignorance. Pretty dramatic, perhaps too tidy. Would I watch that movie? Actually, no, it would make me furious.

But honestly, what kind of movie would I like to watch about Rush Limbaugh? Probably something where he’s devoured by wolves. Or maybe where he’s hoist by his own petard – and the film speculates a near-future where after another Sandra Fluke or Michael J. Fox moment, enough major advertisers dump his show causing WABC to fire him. His free-market radicalism bites him in the ass. Then he’s put in prison. Where he’s devoured by wolves. Credits.

The Lord of War script model is probably the most commercial path forward. Gotta wonder though, what would be the most ambitious script about Rush? I’d say it would be to model the structure on Citizen Kane. Dream up some “Rosebud” moment that caused young Rush to grow into the festering cyst that he’s become. Here’s a contender from his high school days in Missouri:

As soon as school would let out, Rush would run home and fire up his CB and monopolize Channel 9, making it impossible for truckers and others in the community to communicate. Channel 9 eventually became set aside for emergency use only.

Surprise, surprise. Baby Rush was a selfish, lonely, destructive asshole as a young cyst.

What about Bound for Glory? One thing that I found interesting about that biopic is the disconnect between Guthrie’s persona as a champion balladeer of the underclass, and his private life as a terrible husband and drunk. But Rush goes through wives like tissue paper. His rapacious politics suits his personal life. Which gets me thinking that maybe the most daring model for the script would be to invert Bound for Glory.

Start with him growing up in Missouri, an heir to a powerful, prominent family full of attorneys, judges and political figures. And simply show how he is driven to defend his inherited privilege by attacking those he sees as threats: poor people, women, gays, latinos, non-Americans, muslims. He was born lucky enough to afford to do anything he wants, and he just simply does. In other words, just play it straight. Utterly clear of inflection. That would be Bronson crazy. Maybe great.

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