Friday, May 12, 2006


A Movie Review

In his last two films About A Boy and In Good Company, director Paul Weitz set about creating a style in which he fleshes out characters that you would be prone to make snap judgments about into surprising empathetically figures, this is a trend he continues in his new feature American Dreamz. On the surface it is a rather obvious and thin political satire about a Bush-like president who agrees to be a guest judge on a popular reality talent search program in order to boost his sagging poll numbers, and the terrorist/contestant assigned to kill him when he does. Now I realize that this movie has not been well received with the public in general, but I acutely found it to be a deceptively profound film. Beneath everything it is a movie about people who have become things that they never intended to be, whether that's a shallow person, a political puppet, or a suicide-bomber designate. It is also more obviously about the American dream as continuously elusive concept, no matter what one accomplishes in life.

While lampooning our silly reality TV, celebrity obsessed culture, uninspiring leadership, and ineffective handling of foreign policy, the film blames none of these things for our current state of malaise. Instead Weitz puts the blame for our sorry, sorry world and lives right where it belongs, on us. It is an uncomfortable truth the film conveys in an almost parable like fashion, you can skip over it if your not paying attention, but be moved and struck by if you are. Most of these characters have good hearts, they've just kind of given up and allowed themselves to be trapped by circumstance.

Dennis Quaids President Joe Staton is no mere mockery of George W. Bush, though both can seem a bit slow and simplisticly religious. Staton is a recovering alcoholic who's found Jesus, his mother wanted him to get into politices to prove to his father (himself now a former President) that "any idiot can do it." Having just scored a re-election victory after a long and hard fought campaign, Staton wakes-up the Wednesday after to a crises of identity, 'why me?', 'why did I win?', 'Am I truly good enough?', and sends his butler on the unusual quest to get him a newspaper. Willem Dafoe is Statons Cheney-like Chief of Staff and the true power behind the throne, for years he has been controlling Joe and when the nations chief executive starts exhibiting signs of independence he re-asserts that control and even starts medicating the head of State. But even Dafoe's harsh character is opened up somewhat near the end of the film, when one of Statons actions reminds him of the spark he saw in the man years earlier that made him think he could mold him into a great president. I also loved Marcia Gay Harden as the caring and quietly strong Laura Bush-type First Lady.

Hugh Grant's Martin Tweed is a slightly harsher, much more self-destructive version of Idols Simon Cowell. Self-loathing and often cruel his humanity shows sign of reawakening when he meets a contestant on his top-rated TV show from a small, poor Ohio town who is almost as false as he is. Her name is Sally Kendoo and she is played to perfection by Mandy Moore, an actress I never wanted to like but I'm afraid I do. Kendoo ends up beating out an assortment of other contestants (some appear to have been based on real idol participants, such as Clay Aakin), to end up competing against Omar (the very likeable Sam Golzari) for the grandprize.
That Omar was a misfit, show-tune loving, terror trainee whose superiors had given up on him until under deep cover he landed what was suppose to have been his cousin's gig on American Dreamz, is the storyline that sets up the films potently explosive climax.

While there are a number of other characters in American Dreamz worth exploring, I'm going to end this review now and suggest you see the film in order to get acquainted with them. American Dreamz is not a great film in the traditional sense, but it certainly goes beyond its conventional trappings to create an unusual comedy that is worth thinking about.


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