It’s Oscar nomination day, which means some in snow-covered Washington DC — Hollywood for ugly people, if you believe the old saying — are daydreaming about what it would be like to make a blockbuster film. “Avatar” seems to have the inside track in this year’s Academy Award race, but isn’t there an old classic movie ripe for a Washington-style remake?
How about “Meet John Doe”? It’s a Frank Capra morality piece made in 1941, where a soda jerk can speak basic truth and a rail-riding hobo is played by Gary Cooper, the George Clooney of his day. Everybody’s scrounging for a job and a buck, they’re laying off the old pros at the local newspaper and a cigar-chomping oil magnate wants to get into politics. Barbara Stanwyck plays a hard-driving columnist who fakes a letter from a mythical “John Doe” who says he’s going to leap off the city hall roof on Christmas Eve to protest widespread corruption and the state of the world in general.
But that’s all background. What makes it made-to-order for a 2010 remake is what happens when Gary Cooper a.k.a. “John Doe” speaks to a big gathering, reading remarks written by the columnist, who’s now in cahoots with the oil magnate: the crowd loves him so much they go out and form grassroots John Doe Clubs, just to be neighborly. No politicians allowed. They’re not partisan, they just want to make things a little better.
The oil magnate has another idea, to use the John Doe Clubs as a platform for his political ambitions. Meantime the columnist and the hobo fall in love, and decide they really are altruistic and want “the people” to succeed. It all winds up on the city hall roof in the snow on Christmas Eve, with (really) the “Ode to Joy” playing in the background.
OK, here’s the 2010 version: picture Scott Brown, the new Massachusetts senator, as this century’s John Doe, arriving in Washington to find a Senate tied up in knots, a House in disarray and a White House mired in debt and war. He’s buoyed by support from the John Doe Clubs of the 21st century, the Tea Party movement. Another Washington outsider, a telegenic former governor with ambitions of her own, is drawn to the nouveau John Doe and to the Tea Partiers. They go to the Tea Party convention but find their maverick message competing with entrenched Washington interests. Nobody goes up to the city hall roof, but the two newcomers emerge from the fray older and wiser and open their own PR shop.