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American Dreamz

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US, 2006, 107 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Coolidge, Sam Golzari, Marcia Gay Hardin, Chris Kline, Seth Meyers, John Cho, Judy Greer, Shohreh Aghdashloo.
Directed by Paul Weitz.

This is a topical comedy, not so much a laughing out loud comedy, but one that provides a fairly constant smile.

However, a word of warning is required – not because of language or other difficulties since there is very little of these that would upset. Rather, it is the topics of the comedy: politics, the media, American foreign policy and the actions of international terrorists. Topical comedy has to tread rather warily as there is the potential to offend some political beliefs and allegiances.

On the other hand, there is a strong tradition of political satire in the UK, less so in the US, so it is surprising to find Americans sending themselves up. The hint is given in the Z in Dreamz. American Dreamz is the equivalent of the extremely popular TV talent (and lack of talent) show, American Idol with international variations in Pop Idol. Obviously, this is an easy target for parody.

What makes the film different is that in the aftermath of his re-election, President Staton of the US (Dennis Quaid), is weary, a touch depressed and avoiding contact with people, much to the chagrin of his chief advisor (a bald Willem Dafoe who keeps reminding us of Vice President Dick Cheney) and his supportive wife (Marcia Gay Harden).

The president is reduced to doing something he has never done before: reading the papers, even the Canadian papers, and he is discovering all kinds of information about Shias and Sunnis and Iraq that had never registered before! You can see where this kind of satire is going and Dennis Quaid does a good but fairly benign parody of President Bush and his reliance on his advisors. But… to push his ratings, the president is to be a judge on American Dreamz.

In the meantime we are treated to a more barbed treatment of the completely cynical and self-centred host of the show. Who else but Hugh Grant continuing his line of ever more surface charming, depth-loathsome characters. Grant is a pass master of this kind of sarcastic, blunt and devious character (and probably modelled his performance on some real personalities). His assistants play up to him. Contestants try to manipulate him. But, he controls everything.

The two principal contestants are Mandy Moore as an Ohio girl who seems to have fewer scruples than the compere – and we see where she ends up. She has a show business mother (Jennifer Coolidge) and the simplest of dopey American boyfriends (Chris Klein is very persuasive) who, disappointed in love, enlists for Iraq and is wounded. While his character seems a foil to the others, he is the key to the film’s ending: nothing is real unless it is on TV, whether the talk show personal revelations or events of violence (and the camera has to keep rolling).

But, it is the other contestant who will raise the eyebrows, a terrorist recruit who is terrible at military training but loves Broadway songs and who, by a series of accidents, finds himself a finalist and on a mission to destroy the president. The jokes at the expense of the terrorists are amusing, though terrorists themselves may not find them so.

Satire is not everyone’s cup of comedy, especially if one identifies with the targets of the humour. (It will be interesting to see how American Dreamz goes down at the US box-office.) Satirists are often angry at society and attack what they see wrong with it. They also tend to be strong moralists who have an idea of how a perfect society ought to be and so are able to mock what they see is wrong.

Writer-director Paul Weitz (About a Boy, In Good Company) hits, but does not hit too hard – just enough to alert us, with a smile, to some of the political and media stupidities of our time.

1. An entertaining and enjoyable comedy? Satire? The points being made – heavily, subtly? Softly and broadly?

2. The Weitz brothers, their careers, the range of films? Their point of view and sense of humour?

3. The strong cast – and their playing against image?

4. The focus on Martin Tweed, the compere of the Pop Idol show, his relationship with his girlfriend, the debate about her leaving, his nonchalant attitude? A variation on the Hugh Grant persona? At work, the Pop Idol clone? His on-air charm, his fans? His being a prima donna, narcissistic? The character of his assistants, their toadying to him? His treatment of them? The new season for the show, his hopes? His aims in getting contestants? The auditions and his reactions? His sleazy attitude to life? His wanting the lowest common denominator for the show? His attitude towards the audience? Wanting Arabs and Jews, terrorists? His interest in Sally, her style? His plans – and the importance of the ratings?

5. The focus on the White House, the parody of President Bush? The mid-presidential elections? His being re-elected? Disappearing, wanting a holiday and a break? His not ready to be president? His boredom, television, reading the papers – and his discoveries about the realities of the world, especially Iraq? About people’s opinion? The chief of staff and his advice? His wife and her advice? Dennis Quaid as the president? Marcia Gay Hardin and her style as his wife? The president and his lacking energy, his reaction to the reading? Advice that he should become stronger in the public eye?

6. The focus on Sally and her mother, her home life, her mother’s comic touches, her goals? Her relationship with William Williams, a nice young man, his being in love with her, her callous breaking with him? Her behaviour in public, the tantrums, the arrival of the show people at her house – the mixture of spontaneity and calculation, her haing to perform in surprise again? The auditions? Her singing? Her needing William? Ditzy and calculating?

7. The focus on the terrorists, their training camp, Omer and his inability to be a terrorist, sense of failure, loving the American musicals and performing? The decision to send him as a sleeper to Los Angeles? His coming to the family, his being received, mixed moods, the reaction of Iqbal? Iqbal and the shows, gay? Their arguments? Iqbar’s going to the mall and leaving Omer at home? Omer and his going to the studio, singing, being discovered by the show people? The offer? Iqbal being upset – but then deciding to be the manager and excelling at costumes, décor etc?

8. The other contestants, especially the Jewish contestant, the Hasidic background – and the seeming ludicrous presentation of him performing modern songs?

9. William and his being upset, his going to Iraq, his talk, the training, naïve, jobs, on the truck, the accidental injury, his return as a hero? His coming to visit Sally? In love with her? The TV and the media taking him over?

10. Sally’s agent, mercenary, the discussions with Sally – and she being more mercenary than he? Her mother? Using William?

11. The decision for the president to be a judge on the show? Making the decisions? The chief of staff and his opinion? His going on the show, his speeches, losing the earplug and floundering, the chief of staff and his swearing – and the president repeating this? The potential disaster? The president being a little more spontaneous, more personal, enjoying himself, the public response?

12. The variety of performances, Martin Tweed’s bored reactions? His decision based on ratings? The difference between his private life and his appearance on screen?

13. Martin and Sally, the sexual relationship, people’s reaction? William’s reaction?

14. Omer, enjoying life in America, winning the various stages of the competition? The terrorists arriving, telling him to blow up the president and himself? The bomb? Omer and his dilemma, going into the toilet, leaving the bomb? Going onto the show?

15. The crises, the winners, Omer and his decision, William going into the toilet, finding the bomb, coming on stage, exploding the bomb?

16. The president, the change – the optimistic touch about President Bush? The terrorists in jail and their watching the TV? Sally and the irony of her being the host after Martin’s demise?

17. How topical, how universal? Audiences enjoying spoofs of the United States?

Created by: coffey last modification: Sunday 01 of November, 2009 [23:09:12 UTC] by malone

Language: en