If you couldn't stomach the thought of seeing Robert Redford's Lions for Lambs or Brian De Palma's Redacted, consider treating yourself to An American Carol, which opens in movie theaters today. This gutsy satire by David Zucker challenges Michael Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Barack Obama, the ACLU, the Recreate '68 movement, the Hollywood establishment and even jihadists, but that's not the half of it. After all, this Zucker comedy was sophisticated by Republican Myrna Sokoloff.
How did this Republican woman become a screenwriter and executive producer in Hollywood? Well, that was not so easy.
Myrna Sokoloff comes from a conservative Republican family in Connecticut. Yet when she moved to New York City and took a political job during Mayor Ed Koch's administration, she found a one-party system as she represented Manhattan Borough President Andrew Stein in real estate development to the Jewish community.
In 1986, Sokoloff worked on ABC's star-studded July 4 TV special Liberty Weekend and wanted to switch her career, so the producers told her that she should move to L.A. There, Sokoloff sometimes reverted to politics, such as working on Jerry Brown's 1992 presidential campaign and as a staffer for Senator Barbara Boxer.
Sokoloff was a Democrat because she thought the DNC represented the downtrodden and the poor, especially women. "However," she said, "as time went on, it seemed to me that the only [women's] issue became abortion." Sokoloff deeply loves her family, especially her 17 nieces and nephews. Therefore, she became disturbed that Democrats and liberal women's groups belittle moms who stay home to raise their families.
As President Bill Clinton was being impeached, Sokoloff suffered another rude awakening. "I became incensed," she stressed. "If a Republican president had done what he did, the women's groups would be out there protesting and saying he had victimized a young woman -- but it was all about being Democrat."
Shunned by the liberal sisterhood for her insights, suddenly Sokoloff was lonely. In solitude, she began listening to Rush Limbaugh because he made her laugh. Indeed, reality was over the top, so why not try to cure certain ills with comedy?
By 2004, the master of questionable taste and former Hollywood Democrat David Zucker befriended Sokoloff through the Republican Jewish Coalition. (Zucker's long list of hits includes Airplane!, all three Naked Gun flicks, Ruthless People, and Scary Movie 3 and 4.) Appalled by the far-left reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, he and Sokoloff produced political TV spots, starting with the Club for Growth's "Kerry Flip-Flop."
Over the course of four years, Sokoloff and Zucker then wrote An American Carol with liberal Lewis Friedman, who was "willing to sell his soul" for longtime friend David.
An American Carol is loosely -- and they mean loosely -- based on the Dickens masterpiece A Christmas Carol. As Grandpa (Leslie Neilsen) celebrates Independence Day, his grandchildren plead for a patriotic story. Grandpa takes them to MooveAlong.org's annual Hollywood extravaganza, where indie filmmaker Michael Malone (Kevin Farley) is awarded for his boisterous ode to Cuba's commie "health care," but depressed because Die, You American Pigs! is a box-office bomb. Consequently, Malone cannot finance his feature debut, Fascist America, or muster much enthusiasm for his latest cause celebre to abolish the Fourth of July tradition. When a terrorist cell leader and his sidekicks (take that literally) come upon Malone, whose America-bashing documentaries are intensely popular in the Middle East, they see him as Allah-sent and tempt him with $10 million to make their next suicide-bomber recruitment video.
After Malone refuses to attend his nephew Josh's (Travis Schuldt) July 4 family picnic, the ghosts of JFK (Chriss Anglin), General George Patton (Kelsey Grammer), George Washington (Jon Voight) and the Angel of Death (Trace Adkins) offer him redemption.
Most scenes are fearlessly funny slaps at leftwing and jihadist lunacy, but they are cringe-free laughs because providence protects the open-souled. Still, two of Sokoloff's favorite parts are seriously personal.
For example, Malone's nephew is a Navy officer scheduled for Iraq and that character was inspired by Sokoloff's own nephew, Josh. "I went to the real Josh's graduation for boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois and there were 700 young people graduating, all standing in their white uniforms, and it was so inspiring," she recalled. "The commander who was welcoming them said, 'You are sailors now. You are all sailors in the most powerful navy in the history of the world and we are the only thing that stands between the terrorists and our families and our friends.' It just sent goose bumps all over me!"
In the movie, Malone sees his nephew depart for combat. Sokoloff wrote that scene to honor all American military families. The day after Zucker cut the scene, he told Solokoff that it choked him up because the character Josh represents everything good about America. I never expected to fight tears during a Zucker comedy, but Sokoloff got me too.
There is also the matter (or should I say immaterial?) of faith in An American Carol. Sokoloff earned her degree in religion and philosophy at Boston University. "And," she said, "I also have a master's degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College's Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. So there's a whole other part of me that you didn't know about."
Thus, another one of her favorite scenes is Michael Malone's encounter with George Washington, who tells him, "When you meet the Almighty, only truth will do."
"We always had the whole scene in there," said Sokoloff. "It's a serious scene, there's no way around it and David always had a problem with having this serious scene in a comedy. So we agonized over how to make it work. Actually, Jon Voight loved the scene and he added his own lines -- the ones about freedom of speech and religion. When Washington takes Malone to St. Paul's Chapel, it sets up Malone for the fact that he will face his own death... And unless you believe in your own death, you have no chance of redeeming yourself."
I have a few reservations about An American Carol, most importantly the point where the ghost of Patton tells Malone that we have to give up some freedom for safety. I discussed this with Sokoloff, explaining that various acts of Congress and executive orders unconstitutionally license the U.S. government to invade our privacy, and arrest and prosecute individuals without cause. Related creepy developments include widespread video cameras and airport photo scanners that penetrate travelers' clothing.
Sokoloff replied, "It is a concern, but in this time when things are dangerous -- during the times when we were at war, under Lincoln, under Roosevelt, rights were curtailed for the safety of everyone -- and I don't mind being searched if it's going to catch somebody with a bomb who would get on a plane with me and 300 other people."
All things considered, An American Carol is thoroughly entertaining, just when we need some good laughs -- and reason for hope.
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