I tend to approach political films with a level of trepidation. Let’s face it. We live in a divided nation. As a result, political films often wind up becoming an us-against-them hit piece. We are saints, and they are racist nazis. So, what about Frank Coraci’s Hot-Air?
The brilliant Steve Coogan is Lionel Macomb, the once reigning king of conservative talk radio. As of late, he’s been losing his audience to a former mentee, Gareth Whitley (Skylar Astin), who is lighting up the airwaves with is more positive, religious, conservative talk show. While Lionel is comfortable with his program and how he runs it, he could care less about the plummeting ratings, but he really can’t. Lionel is just a little competitive.
“…a young girl…shows up in the lobby of Lionel’s rich-guys-class apartment…”
Meanwhile, a young girl named Tess (Taylor Russell) shows up in the lobby of Lionel’s rich-guys-class apartment and insists on seeing Lionel. After evading security, she barges in on Lionel screwing the “help.” It’s soon revealed the Tess is, in fact, Lionel’s…niece. Tess needs a place to stay, while Lionel’s estranged sister Laurie (Tina Benko) is in rehab.
Lionel is not at all happy with the situation but makes the most of it. He has his conservative operatives research the validity of Tess’ story. You guessed it, she’s a bright student recently accepted to a prestigious prep-school. Helping the pair is Lionel’s girlfriend Valerie (Neve Campbell), who shows that Lionel does, in fact, have a softer side and quickly becomes an advocate for Tess.
One complication leads to another. Lionel is about to engage in an on-air war with Gareth, while at the same time, sparring with Senator Montefiore-Salters (Judith Light) over a bill benefitting the children of undocumented immigrants. And Lionel can’t go anywhere without a public protest breaking out.
“…a breath of fresh air over the typical a one-sided partisan film.”
Before you write off Hot Air as a political film giving voice to the other side, Coraci’s movie is not what you think. From the start, my eyes rolled with Coogan’s Rush Limbaugh impression. He’s on the air with his overly negative rants and offering a fairly stereotypical portrayal of the left’s version of the right. Throughout the film, you find his personality has less to do with politics and more to do with his childhood in a dysfunctional family and ultimately forced to overcome these odds and find success in life on his own.
Tess is a symbol of hope and redemption, hoping to connect with her only blood relative other than her mother. She knows exactly who Lionel pretends to be on the radio and doesn’t particularly like playing his games of arguing to win. Can Tess melt the heart of her heartless uncle? I’ll admit, the film does get a little sappy at this point and plays out with Tess being disappointed in the adults and everyone learning something about themselves.
What you find is this isn’t a political film about the self-destructive life of a conservative blowhard. It’s a family drama, set in the world of politics with a message of daring to change the conversation by listening to one another. Even with its sappiness, Hot Air is about family sticking together and finding forgiveness. It a breath of fresh air over the typical a one-sided partisan film. If you’re not into good feelings, then consider watching it for some great performances from Steve Coogan and Neve Campbell.