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Dick, the 1999 teen Watergate comedy, captures the enduring weirdness of political scandals

Just after Clinton’s impeachment, it skewered the chaos by casting two teenagers as Deep Throat.

Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst in Dick
Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst in Dick.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for May 13 through 19 is Dick (1999), which is available to digitally rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Vudu.

This week sparked plenty of comparisons between President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey and President Richard Nixon’s actions during the Watergate scandal.

It also prompted a renewed interest in the 1976 movie All the President’s Men, which tells the story of Watergate — but there are plenty of other movies dramatizing or examining those events as well. And one of the best of the bunch is a 1999 satirical comedy that posits that the informant known as “Deep Throat,” who tipped off Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, was actually a pair of teenage girls.

Even setting aside Trump-Watergate comparisons, though, Dick is a marvel of political comedy — which is why people have praised it since its release. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams play Betsy and Arlene, best friends with a talent for getting into scrapes. Arlene lives with her single mother in the Watergate Hotel, and one night, when Betsy is staying over, they accidentally stumble on the men breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Then, while on a field trip to the White House, they wander away from the group and end up, through a series of accidents, meeting Nixon (Dan Hedaya) in the West Wing and playing with Checkers the dog.

Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst in Dick
Plotting and planning.

Dick is a bit like a modern-day version of Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, in which two minor characters in Hamlet become the central figures in the play, with all the important stuff happening around them. There’s also shades of Forrest Gump (in which Forrest also stumbles across the DNC break-in), with the girls being ludicrously present or even responsible for every major development in the scandal.

But the best thing about Dick is its savvy take on how history repeats itself, and what we can learn from it. The film came out a quarter-century after Watergate and mere months after Bill Clinton’s impeachment. The teenagers who were probably Dick’s target audience when it came out, 25 years after Nixon’s resignation, wouldn’t remember Watergate at all. But the film’s lessons were relevant then, and they’re relevant now, too, more than 40 years after Watergate.

Watergate took years to investigate and unfold, with almost 26 months from the break-in to the day Nixon resigned. From the distance of history, it seems like it all happened very fast. And the media circus in the early 1970s wasn’t the same as it is today, with our 24-/7 cable news channels and Twitter-enabled firehose. But those of us who weren’t adults back then can still imagine how years of hearing about Watergate on the evening news could take its toll.

Dick understands this. In one scene, Betsy’s parents have the TV on, and her mother exclaims, “Enough already! I am sick of Watergate. I am sick of Woodward and Bernstein.” When the girls ask who Woodward and Bernstein are, she tells them that they are “Washington Post reporters who are trying to disgrace the president.”

Ryan Reynolds and Kirsten Dunst in Dick
Baby Ryan Reynolds is also briefly in this movie.

(By the way, Will Ferrell plays Bob Woodward.)

Later, when it all goes down, Betsy’s mother is surprised there was anything to the story — and at how high up the corruption went. But once it’s revealed, they’re all sure it will never be a problem again. “It’s gonna be different now,” Betsy and Arlene tell themselves. “They’ll never lie to us again.”

That read as biting satire in 1999. It does in 2017, too. Assuming elected officials are lying (at least when what they’re saying conflicts with what we want to believe) is now the default for virtually everyone.

But Dick has a lesson for us, too. When they’re accused of just being stupid teenage girls, Betsy exclaims that it’s true. “We are stupid teenage girls!” she says mournfully.

“No, Betsy,” Arlene says, with resolve. “We're American citizens.” And then, they proceed to take down a corrupt president who broke their trust, and more importantly, their teenage hearts.

A hero can come from anywhere.

Watch the trailer for Dick:

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