Democracy Dies in Darkness

The Fix

Bernie Sanders's very Bernie Sanders movie career

By Philip Bump

February 3, 2016 at 6:46 AM

Bernie Sanders has lived an interesting life. You're probably familiar with the broad strokes: growing up in Brooklyn, moving to Vermont, running for local office and then Congress. Perhaps you even know that he was once a track star who recorded a folk album.

But the odds are good that you didn't know he had roles in two movies, appearing opposite Susan Sarandon, Don Johnson, Debbie Gibson and Jeff Daniels.

In 1999, Sanders appeared as the cringe-ily named Rabbi Manny Shevitz in a terrible movie called "My X-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception." It's a movie so anonymous that it doesn't even have a Rotten Tomatoes score, but the description makes clear why.

One-time musician Martin Guigui, who played more than his share of weddings, wrote, directed and stars in this comedy based on his experiences. Guigui portrays Max Tune, whose band is playing the wedding reception of his former girlfriend, Lisa Weinstein (Deborah Gibson, better known as one-time teen pop star Debbie Gibson).

Sounds swell.

Sanders is actually pretty good in it, playing a rabbi officiating at the wedding who cannot get over the Brooklyn Dodgers' departure to Los Angeles in 1958. (That overlaps with Sanders's actual life; he was a high school student in Brooklyn when that happened.) Here's the scene. The bride seated at the table is Gibson, who had a few hit pop songs in the 1980s.

About a decade prior, Sanders had a more subtle role in a much bigger picture, "Sweet Hearts Dance." It's an unfunny rom-com that unfolds over the course of a winter, and was not worth the $13 I paid to see Sanders's 45-second scene. (Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 50% score: rotten.)

The film is set in Sanders's Vermont, including a scene of people sledding, a separate scene of people ice skating and a Veteran's Day parade featuring peace activists who march past a Ben & Jerry's truck. The only thing that could have made it more Vermont-y is if Phish had appeared wearing a Greenpeace t-shirt.

Sanders appears as the kids of the lead characters -- Sarandon, Johnson and Daniels -- are trick-or-treating. The film came out the same year as Sarandon's "Bull Durham," a much, much better movie, and also about baseball.

So here's what happens. Sanders -- then the mayor of Burlington, a bit west of where this was filmed -- opens his door and gives kids candy. "Hi," Sanders says to the kids. "How ya doin'."

Sarandon (in a fur-lined coat), Daniels (wearing fake ears) and Johnson (letterman's jacket) approach. "Come on, Bernie, fill 'em up there," Johnson taunts. "Last year we had to go out and buy 'em candy after they came to your house."

I don't really understand this. Sanders is chintzy with candy, I guess? If there's one thing he ought to be good at, it's distributing the products of labor evenly and willingly.

Anyway, the scene is interrupted by some no-good teens that drive by throwing eggs.

Johnson and Daniels chase after the kids, and we never see Sanders again. Twenty-eight years later, when he decided to run for president, teens were much friendlier to Sanders. And Sarandon offered her endorsement.

Actress Susan Sarandon watches as Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

He's been in a number of other films and TV shows, of course, but always playing Bernie Sanders, politician from Vermont. The two roles that appear above, it seems, comprise the entirety of his film career -- a career in which he played opposite an Oscar winner in roles centered around sports, Vermont, New York, and wealth redistribution.

In other words, it was perfect.

This post has been updated. It originally made a joke about Dave Matthews, but it was pointed out that Phish was a better reference.


Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in New York. Before joining The Post in 2014, he led politics coverage for the Atlantic Wire.

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The Fix

Bernie Sanders's very Bernie Sanders movie career

By Philip Bump

February 3, 2016 at 6:46 AM

Bernie Sanders has lived an interesting life. You're probably familiar with the broad strokes: growing up in Brooklyn, moving to Vermont, running for local office and then Congress. Perhaps you even know that he was once a track star who recorded a folk album.

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