Ronald Reagan’s Daughter Blasts Planned Will Ferrell ‘Comedy’ About His Dementia
Update, 4/29: Will Ferrell has removed himself from the Reagan film following the response to the project's announcement, Page Six reports.
To quote an oft-misattributed aphorism, "Humor is tragedy plus time." It's a saying the makers of an announced film about Ronald Reagan's life during the early stages of Alzheimer's must agree with, because Variety reports the Will Ferrell vehicle plans to portray dementia as hilarious.
The script for Reagan, written by Mike Rosolio and set to be produced by its star Ferrell, was apparently so well-received when it made the Black List — an annual roundup of the most-liked unproduced scripts in Hollywood — that a live reading was staged in March with Lena Dunham and John Cho. The plot centers around the 40th U.S. president's second term, when he was rumored to have already been suffering from early-stage dementia. To cover for his brain fog-related fumbles, "ambitious intern" — not yet cast — is enlisted to convince Reagan he's still an actor, and in fact just playing the president in a movie.
While it's too soon to know if the film's in as incredibly poor taste as it sounds, pulling this humor off without being insensitive to the millions of people currently living with Alzheimer's (and their families) would be quite a feat. As someone who cared for a parent with early-onset Alzheimer's for years, slowly watching its devastating effects rob my mother of her faculties and eventually her ability to recognize me, it's very difficult to imagine the "lighter side." But many serious subjects have been mined for unlikely comedy gold, and there's a chance Ferrell's performance could pull it off if — he dialed down the campiness of his previous George W. Bush portrayal, doubling down on the humanity instead of minimizing the impact of a disease that robs the sufferer of their agency. Because, as one hopes both Rosolio and Ferrell knows, the early stages of dementia are abjectly terrifying for both the sufferer and those that love them.
Patti Davis, Ronald Reagan's daughter, is among those who've raised objections to the project, expressing her thoughts in an open letter to Ferrell.
"Alzheimer’s doesn’t care if you are President of the United States or a dockworker. It steals what is most precious to a human being — memories, connections, the familiar landmarks of a lifetime that we all come to rely on to hold our place secure in this world and keep us linked to those we have come to know and love," Smith wrote.
"I watched as fear invaded my father’s eyes — this man who was never afraid of anything," she continued. "I heard his voice tremble as he stood in the living room and said, “I don’t know where I am.”
Davis later gave Ferrell and Rosolio some very solid advice: "Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have — I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either."
Share your thoughts on the upcoming Reagan project in the comments.
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