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I knew it a couple of months ago. There was no question about it. The American President was to be a light romantic comedy, that much was clear from the trailer. And Cranky being, well, Cranky about romance movies, lugged along his friend Clare. To get the "woman's point of view". Just in case.
The American President comes from Rob Reiner (son of Carl), a fine television actor who has become an even finer film director and producer. Reiner, who managed a hat trick of successes with Misery, A Few Good Men, and Sleepless in Seattle stumbled with his last effort, North. He returns to stride with The American President, the story of a widower President who falls in love. And all the complications that follow.
As portrayed by Michael Douglas, you never doubt that you are watching a President during the course of his "real" work. And it enforces the fact that our Leader is also a real Person. Politically, for this film, the man is a (dare I say it) Liberal. He gives a damn as to the repercussions of his acts. He loves his country. He loves his child and deep down inside there is no covering the fact that he is a man. Without love he is incomplete. But as a politician, as a widower President, all he is allowed is love of country. And that just isn't good enough.
To his staff (ably staffed by Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox), to his daughter even, he is The President. To his would be girlfriend, played by Annette Bening, he is the President. And understanding the difficulties of the blossoming relationship, Douglas character acts as a negotiator, reconciling his job with his desire. Referring to intimacy he says to Bening "We'll wait until you're ready." And in one of the brilliant turnarounds that dot this film, she becomes the aggressor and the Leader of the Free World is totally flummoxed.
And the press are waiting at the White House gates like stray dogs at the back door of a restaurant. The "loyal opposition" (Richard Dreyfuss) decries his values, for allowing his girlfriend (the "First Mistress?") to spend the night I the White House. Just like it would be, were it real.
When I was in film school, learning to write script, my teacher told us to go see any film and look at our watches the second we knew if we liked or disliked what we were watching. And to note the reason why.
At 20 minutes, the President's (sorta kinda) rebellious daughter blows out "Hail to the Chief" on her trombone, after he insists she study the Constitution. At 30 minutes, for other reasons, Cranky, Clare and the rest of the paying audience started applauding. And not for a second of the thousands of remaining seconds did The American President lag. Not one.
The script, credited to Aaron Sorkin, overflows with humor, and with personal touches. With great attention to the details of everyday Presidential life, in which all details are handled by staff (so the President can deal with Presidential Matters!), we find a man who cannot order flowers from a florist because he has no credit cards. Who doesn't know how to dial out of the White House, because it's always been done for him Delightful.
Let's be honest, this has been a pretty bleak year for movies. Bad murder, Bad violence, Bad sex, and the requisite set of bathroom jokes pretty much have defined the last six months of movie going. So I turned to my friend, whose baby blues were beaming by the end of the film, and Clare said the movie was "brilliant. It is intelligent. It is entirely believable and it is so refreshing to see a movie without gratuitous sex or violence or cursing" (Cranky would like to point out that there are some four letter words in the thing, but they're completely in context.)
And if Cranky were in the habit of carrying a mirror, he'd bet that his baby blues were beaming as well. The American President is brilliantly written and acted. I felt I was watching real people with real lives. It was thrilling to watch the relationship begin, develop, and most important, work. This is not a bleak movie. This is not a cynical movie. This is a film that works on so many levels I am amazed it got made in "Hollywood" at all. It is a completely delightful piece of film making.
And since I brought a guest, you get a double barreled blast from the Cranky Critic's (patent pending) movie rating scale of one to eight bucks -- eight being what it costs to see a movie here in New York -- The American President rates
Eight bucks from both barrels. Way to go Meathead! <g>
And get your minds out of the gutter people, she's got a boyfriend. Why do you think <vbg>.
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