Before this morning, I would have said that there was nothing funny about Donald Trump’s run for the presidency. Then, this morning, something arrived like a Christmas present that came 10 months early: Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie. It’s utterly demented, slightly terrifying, and most of all hilarious. It’s also one of the giddiest and most stinging political satires since Thomas Nast took on Tammany Hall.
Clocking in at 50 minutes that whiz right by, the video features a razor-sharp Johnny Depp under a shellacked nimbus of ginger hair and pounds of jowelly putty as the wannabe Blowhard in Chief. Ron Howard lends a hand as the presenter of this cinematic Lost Classic that ranks right up there in terms of ballooning self-regard with Montgomery Burns’ A Burns For All Seasons. In his set-up, Howard explains that back in 1988, Trump adapted his bestselling autobiography into a vanity made-for-TV movie written by, directed by, and starring Donald J. Trump. But, just when it was about to air, ABC pre-empted the masterpiece for a limp Monday Night Football match-up between the Browns and the Colts. When Trump found out that his egocentric epic was getting bumped, he was so furious that he vowed never to air it. The only surviving copy was thought to be lost in “the Cybil Shepherd blouse fire of 1989.” But Howard found an old VHS tape of the film at a yard sale outside of Phoenix and is now sharing it with us in all of its Big ‘80s Velveeta majesty (including a Kenny Loggins theme song).
The story is set on Trump’s 40th birthday, as he tries to wheedle an Atlantic City casino from its owner, Merv Griffin (a zinc-lipped, platinum-toupeed Patton Oswalt), so the real estate mogul can build a Boardwalk monument to his inflated self-image, the Taj Mahal. It will be yuuuge and classier than the real Taj Mahal because his isn’t being constructed by Muslims. After a kid steals a copy of his book (because what kid wouldn’t want to read The Art of the Deal?), Trump brings him into his office, where he explains his rise to power and spews a bunch of racist insults while a parade of nemeses and sycophants come and go. There’s Henry Winkler as New York mayor Ed Koch, his “very classy angel” of a wife Ivana (Michaela Watkins), his “Jew lawyer” (Alfred Molina), Alf, and the Fat Boys.
It goes without saying that Depp has played his fair share of gonzo characters in his career (Hunter Thompson, Jack Sparrow, the Mad Hatter). But his straight-faced riff on The Donald deserves to become one of his signature alter egos. It’s that good. Written by The Onion’s Joe Randazzo and directed by Drunk History’s Jeremy Konner, The Art of the Deal might have been slapped together guerilla-style in four short days, but nothing about it feels tossed off (other than the stuff that’s supposed to feel tossed off). Depp doesn’t look a whole lot like Trump at first, but like the best feats of satirical impersonation, the longer you watch him the more he seems to morph into Trump. His oblivious windbag mannerisms, his macho swagger, even the bow-shape of his mouth when he says “classy” or “yuuuge” are all spot on. He becomes Trump.
Aside from being very, very funny, what does this video mean beyond being something to watch on your computer during your lunch break at work? It’s too early to tell. In the end, probably not that much. But politics is a weird, abstract extension of reality that isn’t immune to the powerful bite of pop culture. Think of how hard it was to take Sarah Palin seriously after Tina Fey was done with her. Or Dana Carvey’s Ross Perot. Or even Darrell Hammond’s Al Gore. For some inexplicable reason, SNL hasn’t been able to hit the bullseye yet with Trump — the biggest, juiciest, easiest target any comedy writer could possibly dream of. Will Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie finally be the satire to derail the steaming popular locomotive coming out of New Hampshire? Probably not. But Depp deserves an Emmy or an Oscar or a Cable Ace award or something yuuuge because his Trump is both serious and seriously funny. A