Game Change, an HBO movie about the 2008 Republican presidential election campaign, stars Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, here a self-consumed rube who—in way over her head—cracks under the stress of the national spotlight and turns paranoid. Her running mate John McCain (Ed Harris) may admire Palin’s galvanizing speeches, but ignorant of even basic geography she often flops, causing McCain’s foul-mouthed advisor Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) much grief. Director Jay Roach (Meet the Fockers) avoids easy laughs, and harnesses Moore’s spot-on portrayal to find a balance between outrage and empathy for the pious hockey mom peddling a divisive evangelical version of the American Dream. Preparing to debate the man she mistakenly calls “O’Biden,” Palin is all jitters and adverbs, but even die-hard Democratic viewers will cheer when her instincts kick in. In the wake of the 2012 election, Game Change is a timely engagement with the strange rules and standards of American politics.