The Stuff Dreamz Are Made Of

by Alan Rapp on April 21, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: American Dreamz
  • IMDB: link

Parody is easy; satire is hard.  Parody imitates and derides in an intentionally easy and often low-handed way for purely comic effect.  Which isn’t to say it can’t be funny when done well.  Satire however has a higher purpose than just imitation or mockery as it uses it’s humor and wit to showcase human folly, vice and frailty.  As a parody American Dreams scores on all points; as a satire it struggles with an unwieldy amount of plot threads yet still manages to weave enough together for a very clever, if not perfect, satire of both American Idol and the Bush White House.  Not as complete or as well crafted as David Mamet’s State and Main or Wag the Dog, but when the movie gets it right it gets it just right for hilarious results.

The “fictional” world of the film involves a President (Dennis Quaid) who is a good ol’ dimwitted Texan with a sordid past and whose understanding of the world is filtered through his Vice President (Willem Dafoe) who actually runs the country.  The President has just won a close re-election and decides to read the newspaper one morning and starts to see a wider world than his handlers have led him to believe exists.  Concerned with what he sees as the President’s nervous breakdown and looking for a way to improve his polling numbers the VP books him as a guest judge on…

The most popular television program on television is “American Dreams,” where contestants compete against each other singing various songs for judge Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) and the American audience who vote after each show.  Tweed is an unlovable son-of-a-bitch who dreads every moment of the upcoming season but knows how to turn on the charm and make the audience love him.  This season’s contestants include white-trash Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore), Sholem Clickstein (Adam Busch) and Arab trained, but failed, terrorist and new immigrant to America, Omer (Sam Golarzi).

There are quite a few threads the film weaves (the President’s growing awarness and concerns with the country and the Middle East, the terrorist camp, Sally and her boyfriend, Omer’s American cousins, the terrorist plan to kill the Presdient, Tweed’s infatuation with Sally) and the film would be better served if a few were trimmed allowing the rest to be woven together a little tighter into a slightly more cohesive story.  Not all the jokes work and the film does go through some peaks and valleys (but damn! are the peaks good).  The film’s main fault is it tries to do a little too much all at once, but enough is done so well the the faults don’t subtract signifcantly from enjoying the film.

The performances are outstanding.  Quaid and Dafoe and perfect as the men running the country and Marcia Gay Harden puts in a fine performance as the First Lady.  Also giving strong supporting performances are Jennifer Coolidge as Sally’s mother, Chris Klein as the dimwitted boyfriend, and Noureen DeWulf and Tony Yalda as Omer’s Americanized cousins.

The true stars of the show however are Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore.  Moore puts on the best performance of her young movie career in a dead-on “evil” Kelly Clarkson impersonation; Sally is the type of character that only her mother, dimwitted boyfriend, fellow cynical bastard Martin Tweed, and millions of braindead Americans can love.  Hugh Grant is terrific as Martin Tweed who provides some of the funniest moments on film with simply a look or gesture.  This is a great role that allows Grant to play the charmer without forcing him into the nice guy role that he’s so used to playing.

The film succeeds in the parody of George Bush, American Idol, and more.  The satire isn’t quite as fulfilled as I would have liked but quite a few humorous moments and some laugh out loud fun.  Though it’s not quite perfect, it’s better than anything that I’ve seen so far this year.

Now fans of Bush and/or American Idol may not like the shots the film takes, but to be fair the film always tries to take the high road.  It makes President Staton not into a complete imbecile but rather a man who is uniformed and over insulated by his handlers.  Also the film doesn’t attack Idol so much as it’s ravenous fanbase and contestants who take it far too seriously.  It’s a good film that the whole family can not only watch but enjoy together and actually discuss afterwards.  These days that’s a rare thing; so go out and live some of those American Dreamz.

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