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The Hillary Clinton Movie: The Winners and Losers

A Hollywood screenplay is full of political notables. Who comes off looking best?


Hillary Rodham Clinton may or may not be starring in presidential election season TV ads come 2016. But there’s also a good chance that Clinton—or at least a celluloid depiction of her back when she answered to Hillary Diane Rodham—will be featured on the big screen before then.

Earlier this month, director James Ponsoldt told Politico that he’d signed on to direct “Rodham,” a biopic that focuses on the beginnings of Hillary’s relationship with Bill Clinton. Young Il Kim’s screenplay for the movie had landed on the 2012 edition of the Black List, an annual compendium of Hollywood’s hottest unproduced screenplays. 

When excerpts from the screenplay—which is set in 1974, as Bill makes his first political run and Hillary helps investigate Richard Nixon’s misdeeds—made it into the media this week, attention inevitably focused on the raciest sequences from the draft.

Like, say, the description of a Clintonian makeout session: “Bill tears off the buttons of her blouse… He buries his head into her cleavage.” (They are interrupted when a call comes through offering Bill a job on the congressional committee investigating Watergate, which he declines because he wants to run for Congress, something he hasn’t told Hillary about, an omission that predictably leads to a huge fight that spoils the mood.) 

Or this excited reaction from Hillary, now a lawyer for that same congressional panel, when Bill helps her see through a piece of White House subterfuge: “I fuckin’ love you. I mean that. I love you, and I want to fuck you.” (Hillary has taken the job that Bill rejected, a key source of dramatic tension in the screenplay.) 

But almost as interesting as the depictions of the Clintons’ embryonic dysfunction is the succession of political notables who traipse through the 117-page draft of Kim’s screenplay obtained by The New Republic. The movie may apply significant creative embroidery to history, but the cast of minor characters offers plenty to geek out over. Who wins and who loses? A rundown. 

Bill Clinton: Winner. Sure, he’s presented as a skirt-chaser, makes cheesy jokes about watermelons, and possibly misbehaves with a sorority girl who gets him a meeting with Sam Walton. But he brings down Nixon! Well, sort of: Bill, who seems not to have been paying close attention as Hillary plays a tape of her interview with the White House counsel, parses the attorney’s words and figures out a truth about Nixonian taping. Boom!

William Weld: Loser. In a way, “Rodham” is structured as a love triangle between Hillary, Bill, and the future Republican governor of Massachusetts. Hillary and Weld share a committee office, exchange “Love Story” references and share flirty banter (she calls him “Harvard,” he calls her “Yalie”). The pair are about to kiss when all of a sudden a colleague bursts in to announce that Hillary has a phone call from Arkansas. Not his fault, but he’s cast as the nice-guy also-ran.

Madeleine Albright: Winner. Kim’s screenplay features you-go-girl cameos by a number of feminist notables—Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan—but future Secretary of State Albright is the one who gets the dramatic line. Hillary is wondering whether to take the Judiciary Committee job since Bill, not her, had been the first choice. It’s about being the best choice, Albright explains, propelling the narrative forward.

George H.W. Bush: Winner. Early in the screenplay, we see Rodham working the phones for a Children’s Defense Fund fundraiser. She talks her way into a call with Tip O’Neill. Bush, the Republican National Committee boss, isn’t such an easy mark: His staff hangs up on her. 

Joe Lieberman: Loser. In Kim’s version of Rodham’s life, the future Senator is witness to the very first meeting of Bill and Hillary. But before we get to see Lieberman telling Clinton how smart Rodham is, we watch him campaigning for city council. He hands a flyer to a pretty passer-by. She promptly dumps it in the trash. No Joementum there.

Robert Reich: Loser. The future labor secretary is the other witness to that first meeting. Reich and Hillary are consulting on some sort of paper. Bill assumes the diminutive ex-Rhodes scholar is tutoring the girl in the coke-bottle glasses. Not so: Lieberman explains that it is Hillary who is tutoring Reich.

Roger Clinton and Jim McDougal: Losers. Hillary’s first trip to Arkansas is a bad one, marred by tension with Bill’s family, friends, and the staff of his doomed congressional campaign. Especially lame: The candidate’s brother (who smokes dope on the job and tosses off homophobic insults about Hillary) and Bill’s pal McDougal (who even then appears to be trying to sell the couple on a real estate scheme called Whitewater).

Donald Rumsfeld: Loser. The president’s men—Alexander Haig, Pat Buchanan et al.—are depicted uttering various entitled-White-House-aide clichés in Rodham’s presence. But it’s Rumsfeld who gets faced: When Hillary, who seems to know everyone in town, meets the Nixon staffer and future defense secretary, he has to remind her that they met a half-decade earlier. She doesn’t remember him. (Bonus loser: Henry Paulson. The future treasury secretary doesn’t have any lines at all. He’s depicted as a nametag-wearing White House aide who ushers Hillary back to a meeting. Dork.)

Bernard Nussbaum: Winner. Nussbaum would go on to quit Bill Clinton’s White House to protest the appointment of a Whitewater special prosecutor. In Kim’s screenplay, the committee lawyer and boss to Hillary is depicted as a dogged investigator—i.e., the sort who’d know just how damaging a protracted investigation can be.

Bob Woodward: Loser. The Washington Post scribe may have unearthed Watergate, but in Kim’s screenplay he can’t tell Hillary from the two other women who work for the committee. She tells him to get a life.

Marian Wright Edelman: Winner. Hillary’s boss at the Children’s Defense Fund serves as a kind of moral guide, encouraging Rodham’s ambition and offering a poetic send-off—something about being genuine and knowing yourself—when a guilt-ridden Hillary abandons Washington for Arkansas.

Hillary Rodham: Winner. If Kim’s screenplay ever makes it to the big screen, it’s a safe bet that its heroine’s political team will be anxious about the optics of a possible president discussing her breasts, disparaging rednecks, and tossing Roger Clinton’s bong across the room. But it presents Hillary as a fundamentally sympathetic character. They should hope "Rodham" gets made. Though they should also hope the bit where she sings a Carly Simon song gets cut.

Michael Schaffer is editorial director at The New Republic. Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelshaffer