Top 4 Reasons Why Dick Is An Underrated Comedic Gem
It's the 20th anniversary of what is low-key one of the best comedies of the 90s.
There’s no denying that 1999 was a banner year for cinema. The final year of the ’90s saw not only the last gasp of the indie film boom, but a series of surprisingly original offerings from the major studios that would likely never get made today. Films like Being John Malkovich, Fight Club, Magnolia, The Matrix, Election, and The Sixth Sense broke cinematic rules and established a new generation of auteurs.
But there was one little movie released in August 1999 that holds a special place in my heart. It’s part teen comedy, part historical satire, and almost all dick jokes. I’m talking of course about Dick, Andrew Fleming’s comedic take on the Watergate scandal that posits a world in which secret government informant Deep Throat was actually two ditzy teenage girls, played by Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst.
While Dick was not a box office hit, it achieved cult status as one of the smartest, most original teen comedies of the ’90s. Let’s take a look back at what makes Dick so special.
1. The Cast
The film focuses on Betsy (Kirsten Dunst) and Arlene (Michelle Williams), two high schoolers who accidentally witness the Watergate break-in and are then recruited by Nixon himself (Dan Hedaya) to be official white house dog walkers. The duo have great comedic chemistry, channeling a 70s version of Romy and Michele (sidebar: Michelle Williams is actually a great comedic actress, and I wish she had more opportunities to show off her skills). It helps that they are surrounded by a cast of comedy veterans from SNL and Kids in the Hall. Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch shine as a bickering Woodward and Bernstein, and Dave Foley and Harry Shearer deliver a great Haldeman and G. Gordon Liddy, respectively. You can also catch a young Ryan Reynolds in one of his earliest roles Haldeman’s son Chip.
2. The Unsung Genius of Andrew Fleming
You may not recognize the name, but writer/director Andrew Fleming has been cranking out offbeat comedy classics for years. In addition to working on nearly every hit comedy series of the past decade, Fleming is the mind behind the hysterical Hamlet 2 and Ideal Home (which if you haven’t seen them, stop what you’re doing immediately and check them out). He also wrote and directed The Craft, as if you needed another reason to love him.
3. The Unexpected History Lesson
Okay, so to be clear, this movie is fictional. But it does cleverly incorporate real facts about the Watergate scandal and the real people involved behind the scenes. The film deftly uses comedy to discuss historical events, like attributing Nixon’s paranoia to the pot cookies that Betsy and Arlene give him, or explaining away the missing 18.5 minutes of the Nixon White House tapes as Arlene confessing her love for Nixon and singing Olivia Newton-John’s “I Honestly Love You.” It’s a seamless blend of history and comedy well before Drunk History ever existed.
4. Yes, the Dick Jokes
Despite Hollywood’s best efforts, there are no new dick jokes to be told. That area of comedy is well-worn territory, but Dick still manages to land the punchlines, thanks to Williams’ and Dunst’s hilariously earnest line delivery. I will never not laugh at Michelle Williams quietly saying “Dick frightens me.”
If you’ve never seen it or are looking to revisit this unsung comedy classic, Dick is currently available on Amazon Prime.
(image: Columbia Pictures)
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