At this point in United States history, there
are no targets riper for mocking than American Idol and George W.
Bush. However it takes a certain amount of nerve to make a movie which
tries to savage both at the same time. Add in suicide bombers,
loveless marriages, show tunes and white trash wannabes and you have the
recipe for either one of the funniest movies ever made or a complete and
total disaster after all if you don't hit on targets this big everyone
will hear the thud.
American Dreamz does
not land with a thud by any means, but it does not connect as much as it
should either. Writer/Director Paul Weitz has said in interviews about
this movie that satire closes in a week, so he has made his film a straight
comedy instead. While this is not exactly true American Dreamz
certainly is a satire, if a broad one this attitude sabotages the
film. They are trying to keep things light and funny when this film
should be dark and funny. Good satire should be cutting, but while
American Dreamz takes some serious stabs at modern American life, so
much is done in a cartoonish manner that it dulls the blade.
For example, the long
tagline in the poster is probably as damning as anything in the entire film.
"Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the
government goes to war for all the wrong reasons and where more people vote
for a pop idol than their next President." If the entire movie could
keep that kind of concise, biting point of view it would have been much
stronger. Instead, the movie wastes time taking pot shots at gay Arab
choreographers, unemployed small town losers, Hassidic rappers (this would
have played a lot better if the real Orthodox Jew reggae rapper Matisyahu didn't
become a surprise sensation while the
movie was being made), gold-digging stage moms and soulless agents.
Hugh Grant plays Martin
Tweedy, the Simon Cowell-type snarky, self-loathing host of American
Dreamz, a talent contest that is the biggest draw on TV. It's
a funny and relatively ruthless role for Grant, Tweedy is so cynical about
human nature and so miserable in his own company that the character is the
only truly dark character in this black comedy.
He wants Mandy Moore as a
cute white trash redneck girl (though she is from a middle-class Ohio
family) who is not averse to using sex to get what she wants. Tweedy
also decides to make the show interesting television by passing through a
low-talent Iraqi singer who was a part of Al Qaeda but so incompetent
that he got farmed out to live with his highly Americanized family.
Suicide bombings and Al
Qaeda are generally not fodder for comedy, probably for good reason.
However it could make for some really dark humor. The reason this
movie does not work as a satire is simply this a good black comedy is
supposed to be ruthless and writer Weitz just does not have it in him to go
for the jugular.
Sure, Dennis Quaid's
President Bush uh, I mean Stanton is dumb, incompetent, overwhelmed,
nepotistic and goofy. However, you can tell that Weitz likes the
character and isn't willing to get down in the mud with him as written he
seems addled but he basically wants to do the right thing.
Even the real bad guy,
Dafoe's evil puppetmaster Cheney-ish character, has a soft side, exclaiming
excitedly "That's my guy" when the President finally shows a spine to save
people. Maybe this will spare Weitz from charges of being partisan
(though I doubt it), but it doesn't make for interesting storytelling.
Because of this skittishness, American Dreamz is a pretty funny movie
that could have been a classic.
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Posted: April 30, 2006.