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The American President (DVD) Review
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, The American President should have been considered for other Oscars as well (maybe even Best Picture, although I realize it's not the great drama of the century). Nevertheless, The American President is a fun romantic comedy reminiscent of the old Frank Capra movies. Although not handled with kid gloves, the president comes across as fairly shy and innocent in his relationship with a Washington lobbyist, creating a charming contrast considering the power of his office. Released in 1995, The American President is one of a number of mainstream movies favorably focused on the presidency, with Dave and Air Force One leading the list (did liberal Hollywood producers hope some of the favorable light would rub off on Clinton?) That's debatable. But what's not debatable is that The American President is one of the best romantic comedies of the decade...
Michael Douglas plays the role of Andrew Shepard, widower and President of the United States. In the political world, Shepard is king - enjoying unprecedented highs in his job approval rating. But the president's private world is empty. The president's daughter is the only close person in his personal life, and he greatly misses his wife. Following an environmental policy meeting with Washington lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), Shepard considers asking her out. But he takes advice from aides A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) and Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox) en route to making his decision.
When the president does arrange a date with Sydney, her presence at the White House is leaked to the media, and the president's approval rating falls (I'm not exactly sure why, seeing as how the American public would have to be totally deranged to forbid a widower from dating). The growing scandal is further compounded by opposition leader Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) who uses the scandal as a launching pad for his own campaign to win the presidency. Will the good guys win, or will the evil Rumson take down the president?
The plot structure of The American President is nothing new, and the screenplay itself is far from masterful. But what makes this film so successful is the way in which the cast breathes life into the dialogue. Michael Douglas, as President Andrew Shepard, shows the audience why he is a Hollywood titan. His presidential demeanor is a West Wing prelude which should make Martin Sheen proud, yet his interaction with Sydney Ellen Wade and his daughter Lucy (Shawna Waldron) paint a human picture of a tough political character. The other half of the equation, Annette Bening, plays her role to perfection as well, transforming from the rough political creature of a hard-nosed Washington lobbyist to a giggly school girl swept off her feet by a great guy (who, incidentally, happens to be the president).
One of the more interesting aspects of The American President is that the screenwriters made Andrew Shepard a widower and not a divorcee. Despite the overall acceptance of divorce in current society, the film wouldn't have worked if the president were divorced. Subconsciously, it would implant an idea in some members of the audience that he's a dog. That's an interesting footnote in my opinion. Also of further note are the appearances of Michael J. Fox (who later starred as a political operative in the TV series Spin City) and Martin Sheen (who later starred as the president in the TV series West Wing). Did The American President peak their interest in such roles, or were they already pursuing those types of roles? Either way, The American President will delight and entertain audiences of all ages, and that's why it's a definite must-see movie.
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