Political Rom-Com For The Nowadays: ‘The American President’

February 18, 2024

As a break, I finally watched a movie all the way through last night. It’d been a while since I stayed til the end. Usually, I either get too bored, or lose interest (Can’t remember the last one). And it was a good mental-health refresher, too, though I’d already seen it a few times, probably originally on VHS in the mid-’90s.

And it portrayed one of the first instances where climate change is a featured item in the plot. However, it didn’t seem to make a dent on me or even create a mark on our environment’s scary, serious tenure at the time. (Not until 2007 and the UN’s IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report did climate change become a dangerous reality to me personally). Better than never.

A solid piece of entertainment, “The American President” stars Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, with superb support from Martin Sheen,  Michael J. Fox, Richard Dreyfuss, Samantha Mathis, among others. And written by Aaron Sorkin (“West Wing,” “A Few Good Men,” etc.), and directed by Rob Reiner, in one of his last good ones. Despite overacting in a lot of his roles (I think), Douglas is in fine, near-perfect form here, a lot closer to his daddy in such a role, while I love everything Bening is in — even nominated this year for the best actress Oscar for “Nyad” — she’s at the top of her game, too. A most-excellent ‘Meet Cute‘ experience except it’s in the Oval Office.

Great h/t to Miss Cellania, who brought it to my attention:

An odd twist to our political set-up nowadays from nearly 30 years ago. Although politics has been getting shittier and shittier for a long time, ‘The American President‘ scores the progressive, nice-guy feel to what we want American politics to be about. And it shows a good, Democratic president during re-election giving a powerful pushback-speech to the cultural-smearing, cruel Republican opponent — Dreyfuss in a classless role — and how progressives can make a difference, but first call out the assholes.

If you want to skip the full movie or don’t have the time right now — here’s that full-throated speech:

Stunned even the jaded White House reporters.

How about some reviews from November 1995 when it was released:

First, the late, great Roger Ebert gave it Four Stars and included this:

The third is the situation inside the White House, where Shepherd, a liberal, faces an election-year challenge from a powerful conservative (Richard Dreyfuss) and is trying to get a controversial crime bill passed.

In a standard Hollywood production, the political aspects would be papered over with vague generic terms, and indeed the president probably would not be identified by ideology. What’s admirable about “The American President” is that real issues – gun control, the environment – are handled realistically, in a series of subplots leading up to a presidential press conference that has a certain resonance even in the current political climate. (The liberal Shepherd learns that he must be decisive and take unpopular stands.) The movie’s center is of course the love story, and Douglas and Bening have remarkable chemistry; their scenes are written and played in a way that develops the comedy without sacrificing the notion that two such people might very likely find themselves in similar situations. The inevitable strategic questions (like whether the power of “the most powerful man in the free world” extends to his bedside prowess) are part of the general embarrassment that both feel because the presidency, in a sense, comes between them.

Edward Guthmann at SFGate: ‘“The American President” may tilt toward the left, but you get the feeling that Reiner and Sorkin, in the wake of Whitewater, Paula Jones and three years of vigorous Clinton-bashing, felt it was time for a strong, unapologetic rebuttal. What’s fascinating is the way they’ve folded the politics into a movie that’s primarily a romance — the kind that anyone, despite his or her affiliation, might respond to.

Desson Howe at The Washington Post: ‘Unfortunately, if you’re not planning to vote for President Clinton next November, you might feel like an unwanted guest during most of “The American President.” Move back toward the left, Mr. President, says this movie. Get the girl, save the planet and keep the conservative Klingons out of the White House. In the later stages, when President Andy (who sure rings of President Bill) finally downs his moral spinach and swings mightily at the opposition, the movie’s liberal heart gushes so profusely you’d do well to wear rubber boots. As for Fox’s tremendous portrayal as a whippersnapper aide-de-camp, it’s about as close to George Stephanopoulos as you can get.

As close to fiction as reality. In 1995, we couldn’t even comprehend the orange-coated asshole T-Rump as a player of consequence, and way-especially how horrible the entire Republican party has become, although they were shitty then, but WTF!

A fairy tale, or not, yet once again here we are…

(Image out front: ‘Art Critic’ by Norman Rockwell, found here.)

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