Movie Review: The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979)

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With this being convention season, I find it fitting to review a political movie that ends with the “hero,” Joe Tynan, making a nominating speech at the convention that will make him a kingpin and an eventual nominee. I wrote this review on 7/1/2012. I rated the movie 8/10.

I remembered liking this movie, but not that it was written by the lead actor, Alan Alda, best known for M*A*S*H. I viewed it again last night, and my respect for it has grown.

The plot is of secondary importance in this movie as are the political positions of Senator Alda. He happens to be liberal, but he’s shown as quite unprincipled, willing to use smears to rise, and willing to betray, but this is papered over by his smiling manner and the superficial attention he pays to his conscience. Joe Tynan uses everyone, including his family.

I do not know what Alda intended, but it seems to me that what he has given us here is a very biting critique of politics, those involved in politics, political party stalwarts, Washington, and human beings in general! There really is not much of a seduction involved of Joe Tynan, but there is a seduction of sorts of his wife. There is really no decline and fall of anyone. What we see occur on the screen is the flowering of the bad seeds already inside the main players and the existing emptiness already present in the supporting players.

This all is wrapped up in a package that is so earnest, normal, jovial, and at times humorous that, if anything, the viewer may be seduced into accepting the behavior on display as an every day drama and overlooking the mirror being held to his or her own face.

We see a devastating series of character sketches. No one is left standing. No institution is left standing.

Alda’s Joe Tynan cannot run his family successfully. He cannot understand or communicate with his daughter. He cannot control his own emotions and ends up being seduced by Meryl Streep and she by him, although he has an attractive and satisfying wife, by his own account, and one he claims to love.

Tynan makes many claims of love, but it’s clear that his main love is for his senatorial office, power, and his own movement toward the presidency. His particular politics are virtually irrelevant. If he could have risen by making deals with his political opposites, he would have; and he probably has since he is friendly with them.

Here is a man who can’t claim success within his own family who wants the power to be president. In one way or another, this is the movie’s statement about every such man and every such president.

Rip Torn, another senator, is interested in one thing: sex. Maybe food and partying come second. Melvyn Douglas, another senator, is senile. Tynan’s assistants are all ambition and manipulativeness, all interested in image, all interested in riding higher on Tynan’s coattails.

Streep is interested in digging up dirt on a nominee to the Supreme Court and getting Tynan to use it, which she does. She too is unfaithful in her marriage.

Tynan wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to rise without personal cost, while calming or denying his conscience, and while rationalizing all his betrayals.

Tynan’s daughter wants independence from her father, who has a very slick way of ingratiating himself and playing at true emotion while actually going for control and domination. Tynan really does not understand this. He thinks he loves her, but he cannot see his own failings.

But when it comes to his wife, Barbara Harris, it does seem that Tynan does come to recognize to some extent that he is using her and that his need for her is for his own selfish ends. He actively seduces her in an effort to keep her on his side and by his side so as not to unravel his political ambitions. The chance to make the nominating speech at the convention makes him see more clearly the choices and what he’s doing to rise.

Meanwhile, the photography of the delegates at the convention shows what stupid fools and clowns they are.

There is no political side taken in this movie in the sense of party splits or favorites. It’s anti-politics all the way.

The only character with some shreds of integrity is Tynan’s wife, and she has been in therapy and is having a hard time coping with her situation. She wants to leave him and almost does, but then she falls prey to his seductive promises and then to the applause for her husband and the prospect of becoming First Lady. She becomes a puppet to his ambition, if not her own.

The seduction of Joe Tynan is not his own but mainly his seduction of others. His seduction of others follow on the central seduction, which is the seduction of power. One might say it’s the serpent at work.

4:32 pm on August 31, 2012