Moviegoers might get the thrill, vicariously, of burying their heads in Hillary Clinton’s cleavage if “Rodham,” a buzzed-about screenplay by novice writer Young Il Kim, finally makes it to the big screen.
The former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state, as well as once—and possibly future—Democratic presidential candidate, also buttons up her undone blouse, talks dirty, and lavishes Bill Clinton’s belly with kisses, in the same rough sex scene when he paws at her breasts. (Clearly the account is fictionalized to some extent, though Kim claims to have read and researched thoroughly.)
We got our inky fingers on a copy of the script, which landed a coveted spot on Hollywood’s 2012 “Black List,” an annual ranking of the best unsold screenplays according to Hollywood insiders. You might recognize other previously blacklisted scripts, including Django Unchained, The King’s Speech, Slumdog Millionaire, and Argo.
Veteran producer Richard Arlook and partners at Temple Hill Entertainment (responsible for the “Twilight” series), with the help of United Talent Agency, are currently shopping “Rodham” to bankable actresses in order to secure financing. Reports mention Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Chastain, or Carey Mulligan as possibilities to dress up the lead role, which is confined to Hillary’s younger years, when even her admiring biographer admits there’s beauty in Hillary that only Bill can see.
Kim introduces Hillary as the “valedictorian of the ‘look-like-shit school of feminism,’” before painting her as a brazen careerist, as disdainful of other women as she is of men. Maybe that’s because almost all the male characters in “Rodham” are nincompoops. Hillary’s father is a Republican bigot. At Yale Law School in 1972, in a preamble to her D.C. days, Robert Reich (Bill Clinton’s future labor secretary) and Joe Lieberman (eventual senator and Democratic vice-presidential nominee) are already bureaucrats, whose homework Hillary corrects.
To Bill, even when he first meets her at Yale, Hillary never seems like more than a campaign manager. Their sex scene, before which they warm up by stroking each other’s ambitions (Bill: “There’s nothing I’d love more than to be under you, Ms. President.”), goes unconsummated: Their political rivalry always kills the mood. Hillary complains to her girlfriends, “He isn’t even using me for sex!” Nor does Bill, again, when she visits him in Arkansas to commandeer his 1974 congressional campaign.
In these “bowels of America” — not by chance “a Republican stronghold” — Hillary encounters yet more male buffoons: Bill’s entire campaign staff of yokels. Paul Fray, the manager, belittles her. Jim McDougal, of Whitewater fame, is a conman. Roger Clinton, Bill’s brother, is a clownish pot-smoker. Other volunteers are virulent racists. With so much hick scum around, it’s no wonder Hillary barely notices Bill’s dalliances with waitresses and campus coeds.
Back in Washington, D.C., where the script frequently returns, John Doar, a civil rights lawyer who’s recruited Hillary to help build a case against President Nixon, questions her aptitude, after which she breaks down and pukes in a steaming hot bathroom.
The lone male character who never offends Hillary is William Weld, a Harvard Law graduate also serving Doar’s House Judiciary Committee investigation. A Republican (and governor of Massachusetts in the 1990s), he repudiates his party and attempts to seduce Hillary to the tunes of Nixon’s secret Watergate tapes on her birthday — a foolish plan to get her pants off, which fails as badly as Bill’s overtures.
Female characters are as flat in “Rodham” as Hillary herself, to whom Bill’s mother, Virginia, at one point lends a dress “designed to reveal the curves and boobs that she doesn’t have.” In fact, females in the script are either butch activists, who follow Hillary’s lead, or bimbos. In D.C., after Yale, Hillary is a junior organizer at the Children’s Defense Fund. She’s frightened at first to meet Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan; however she immediately becomes the feminist icons’ idol when they learn she’s one of only three women working for Doar.
Elsewhere, Marian Edelman, her boss at the Fund, brings her coffee, a selfless act Hillary refuses to do for anybody else, at least for men. In fact, Hillary’s contempt for basic household chores is a recurring theme in “Rodham.” For instance, her best friend and her roommate, “lacking any tangible political futures of their own…seek to ride the Rodham Express as far as it will take them.” So they carry her boxes and bags. As a reward, Marian and Betsey Wright, the best friend, tag along in the Clinton administration, as we learn in a postscript.
Jill Wine Volner, an assistant prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, known for her snug tops and skirts, is eye candy, too. In a momentous scene, Hillary, after being mistaken for Volner by a reporter, decides that this was not a compliment and vows to wear pantsuits for eternity. However, she doesn’t hide her spite for a so-called “June Cleaver” in another scene or for Bill Clinton’s mother, Virginia, whom she sees as an over-the-hill harlot and, worst of all, a homemaker.
It’s when Kim describes the Nixon years, a conflation of the Johnson and Carter years appearing like a vision of Apocalypse, that we learn the writer, despite Hillary’s unsympathetic character, likely means “Rodham” as an homage to her: slaying sexist demons since adolescence, when NASA rejects her wish to be an astronaut. Her let-down happens during JFK’s administration, but it’s Nixon’s fault, Kim shows, when NASA’s rejection letter floats through the air to land on an “Elect Nixon in 1960” yard sign in Hillary’s staunchly Republican Chicago neighborhood.
Skipping JFK’s and Lyndon Johnson’s administrations, when the Vietnam War began in earnest, we learn that it, too, is Nixon’s fault, as is Middle Eastern turmoil causing gas prices to spike, and stagflation—economic malaise typically associated with Jimmy Carter’s administration. Thank God, Kim must think, for Nixon’s Watergate scandal, which provides enough leverage to cram every sorry episode into the same box.
Hillary’s work in the capital is a battle against good and evil: Republican evil, responsible for her earliest childhood nightmare, and Democrat good, in “Rodham” a mission to advance unattractive women to positions of prominence in the federal government, apparently. For Hillary, the most self-conscious and bitter of them all, a seat on the Supreme Court, in the U.S. Senate, or at the White House is a forgone conclusion. In her incessant conversations with Bill on her prospects, only the choice of which is in doubt.
Even in the fawning hands of Kim, then, Hillary can’t escape opponents’ real criticism of her: that she’ll wade through an infinite number of Bill Clinton’s infidelities to enact her revenge on mankind.
In fact, the screenwriter’s narrative lends those criticisms greater weight. This is the biggest reason “Rodham” will have trouble finding financing in liberal Hollywood, unless Scarlett Johansson, the blond bombshell, is less conflicted about baring all onscreen than Hillary is on the page.
Photo: Clinton Library.