HBO’s Coastal Elites is what happens when Hollywood turns its collective Trump Derangement Syndrome into a movie, a boring movie. Equally earnest and angry, the project is a five-alarm Trump meltdown that rehashes tired accusations against the president and especially his daughter, Ivanka.
Shot during coronavirus lockdown, the movie, which debuted Saturday on HBO, consists of five direct-to-camera monologues from fictional characters who are struggling with their rage against all things Trump.
As the title indicates, Coastal Elites boasts a modicum of self-awareness about its smug, easily triggered characters, who reside in New York and Los Angeles. Most of that introspection comes from Miriam Nessler (Bette Midler), a retired New York City public school teacher who lands in police custody after she snatches someone’s MAGA hat in a fit of righteous fury.
Bette Midler is clearly having a blast playing a version of her own Twitter persona and she’s easily the best thing about Coastal Elites. The Trump-hating star capably conveys her character’s complex feelings of shame about her crime. She also has fun with the stereotypical talismans that Miriam clings to for security — New York Times subscription, NPR tote bag, tickets to the Public Theater.
The rest is all downhill. Writer Paul Rudnick rigs the game with straw men arguments and mischaracterizations about what Trump has said in the past. (Charlottesville gets a shout-out. So do “caged” migrant children.) Worse, he gets all serious and it turns the rest of movie into a dull lecture.
Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy plays a gay actor hoping to land the lead role as Marvel’s first gay superhero. His monologue turns inevitably into an angry screed against Vice President Mike Pence. Sarah Paulson shows up as an online spiritual guru who returns home to her MAGA-loving family in Wisconsin. Her character’s big reveal is both shameless and logically implausible.
The worst is Issa Rae’s segment in which the actress plays a wealthy socialite who runs into Ivanka Trump at a fundraiser. Rae’s character recounts in breathless horror how Ivanka attempts to ingratiate herself in the black community to boost her own public image — something no politician has ever done before. It remains unclear if Rudnick invented the story or based it on hearsay and gossip. Either way, Rudnick’s ongoing obsession with Ivanka — he’s satirized her in the New Yorker — reaches new, creepy dimensions.
The final segment features Booksmart star Kaitlyn Dever as a Wyoming nurse (and political independent) who travels to New York to help with the city’s coronavirus crisis. Her big lesson: Meanie Trump is to blame for everything.
Coastal Elites would be watchable if it weren’t so convinced of its own righteousness. Unfortunately, the movie never ventures outside its own bubble.