On the morning after his re-election, US President Staton (Dennis Quaid) decides to read the newspaper for the first time in four years and continues reading obsessively and reclusively, re-assessing his black and white view of the world. His Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) pushes him back into the spotlight, booking him as a guest judge on the wildly popular talent quest, American Dreamz, hosted by self-aggrandizing, self-loathing Englishman Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). Latest hopefuls include Sally (Mandy Moore), whose single minded ambition to be a star is making a mess of her relationship with boyfriend William (Chris Klein). A surprise success is Omer (Sam Golzari), a recent arrival from Iraq, with a deadly secret agenda. By the time Sally and Omer make it to the finals, they have each had their own epiphanies and the stage is set for a show the nation will never forget.
Review by Louise Keller:
The bite of a satire depends on how sharp the teeth and how deeply they cut into the tissues of the issues. In the case of American Dreamz, an acerbic satire that gnaws hungrily at celebrity, politics, war and ambition, filmmaker Paul Weitz goes for the jugular. As for the dreams for which all the characters are reaching.... well, let me simply say that dreams do come true for everyone. Even if those dreams are not exactly what they had imagined. With its pertinent issues and cutting humour smartly moulded into a sharp screenplay, there's plenty to think about and plenty to laugh at, even if the blackness of the humour may occasionally make us squirm in discomfort.
'Boo,' is the standard television sign-on with which Hugh Grant's insufferable talent show host Martin Tweed starts each show, and it is clear from the outset he is bored out of his mind. With the show. With the talent. With himself. With life. The tactics he uses and the ugliness he uncovers is aptly scary. Grant excels by using not only the charismatic charms to which we have grown accustomed, but scratches well below the surface as he reveals the dastardly flip side. All the cast is hand picked, from Dennis Quaid's carefully judged US puppet President who wants to hide in his pyjamas, Marcia Gay Harden as his supportive first lady, while Willem Dafoe's manipulating Chief of Staff (whose physical appearance alone will make you sit up and take notice), is nothing short of brilliant. Then there's Mandy Moore's terminally ambitious would-be celebrity who sings a treat, her stage mom (Jennifer Coolidge), Chris Klein's soppy veteran suitor and Sam Golzari's Middle Eastern broadway show addict Omer, who gets his suicide bomber instructions from three terrorists while slurping grapefruit sorbet in a Jacuzzi. Tony Yalda's performance as Iqbal, Omer's rich-kid US cousin who goes from star performer to Svengali on heat is also outstanding.
The set up is terrific, the execution delicious. Best of all, we get to understand each of the characters, irrespective of whether or not we like everything we see. Beyond the laughs, there are serious issues on display, and humour is an effective telescope.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If revenge is a dish best served cold, satire is a dish best served acidically funny and American Dreamz dishes it out in a display of filmic bravado. It's an unlikely recipe, including the West's fetish for talent shows, America's obsession with fame and celebrity, Middle East politics with a top dressing of terrorism and suicide bombing, oh and most importantly, the devalued vision of American presidency.
In an often subversive film which shows Iraqi insurgent elements sending off a bumbling trainee to American relatives to wait for a suicide mission (which they never imagine he could carry out), the only credibility stretch is an Englishman (Hugh Grant) as the host of America's most popular tv show. But Grant is actually ideal as the amoral, self loathing king of this ugly and arrogant talent quest, even whose title has been corrupted with a 'z' in the style of marketing plugs aiming at the lowest common denominator. The fact that he isn't American only widens the net that writer/director Paul Weitz casts. He wrangled a similarly brilliant and layered but brittle performance out of Hugh Grant in About A Boy, as you'll recall.
Mandy Moore turns - in a pleasant surprise - to the dark side as Sally Kendoo, whose ambition to be a tv star corrodes her nice girl next door values in less time than it takes to kiss her boyfriend, William (Chris Klein in a deliciously oafish role). The fact that Dennis Quaid keeps us guessing which President he is he aiming at only adds to the juiciness of the characterisation: you'll swear one minute it's George Bush, and the next minute that it's George Bush ... But the screenplay doesn't rely on superficial jibes, although Willem Dafoe as the President's puppeteer ... er, Whitehouse Chief of Staff, does manage a number of these as well as a few deeper jabs.
Early laughs at Omer (Sam Golzari) at a terrorist training camp is a safety measure against audiences taking the film too seriously, and also serve to poke mild fun at the insurgency. And why should they be spared a satirical spray. But Omer's evolution, or epiphany, is expressed in sobering terms, although handled with a welcome light touch.
Those who lack a deeper understanding of humour may find it difficult to come to terms with this film: it laughs at things that are not funny, but it does so because simultaneously it recognises their importance. Grotesquely entertaining and mercilessly acute, American Dreamz is like the A to Z of contemporary socio-politics, a cartoonist's fantasy in moving pictures.
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AMERICAN DREAMZ (M)
CAST: Willem Dafoe, Hugh Grant, Richard Dreyfus, Chris Klein, Dennis Quaid, Mandy Moore, Jennifer Coolidge, Marcia Gay Harden
PRODUCER: Paul Weitz, Rodney M. Liber, Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz,
DIRECTOR: Paul Weitz
SCRIPT: Paul Weitz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Elswit
EDITOR: Myron I. Kirstein
MUSIC: Stephen Trask
PRODUCTION DESIGN: William Arnold
RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 27, 2006