THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT is as topical as today's headlines. What
subjects are more in the news than President Clinton's reelection and
single parents? Well, in this comedy we get both. The names have been
changed to protect the innocent as they say, but the movie leaves no
doubt that this is a movie that asks the question, what would it be
like if today the president was single because his wife had died of
cancer during the 1992 campaign?
In director Rob Reiner's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT it is the third
year of the first term of 49 year old Democratic president Andrew
Shepherd (Michael Douglas). Just like William (Bill) Clinton, he goes
by a nickname, Andy. His opponent in the campaign is the conservative
Republican and Senate majority leader, Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss).
Not only is Dreyfuss made to resemble Bob Dole, he even represents
Kansas as well. Playing the Chelsea role is another 12 year old girl,
Lucy Shepherd (Shawna Waldron). As senior policy advisor George
Stephanopoulos, we have a short actor with a lot of hair and a temper
just like him, Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox). See the documentary
THE WAR ROOM if you want to see the real Stephanopoulos in action.
The parallels go on and on. Here the president is not sure what
he is for other than getting good poll numbers and being reelected.
The moral of the show, of course, is that he discovers his values and
finds his missing backbone, much as a paleontologist might discover a
new dinosaur. The Republicans in the movie are only interested in
slinging mud, they met in smoke filled paneled rooms where they smoke
big cigars, and they talk like devils. The Democrats, on the other
hand, have a handsome and charismatic leader, and they are out to save
the planet with bills on global warming. Were life so clear, we could
give up on elections and turn the government over to the Democrats in
perpetuity. It is this part of the show that I found very tiring.
They could have made a show about a single president trying to get
reelected, without the Clinton family and his advisor look-alikes, and
it would have been better.
When I was able to ignore the pedantic political messages, I found
a movie that was hilarious. It has been a long time since I laughed so
much. The script by Aaron Sorkin has one great line after another.
When environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) first
meets the president, he overhears her describing him as thinking he is
"the chief executive of Fantasyland." Rather than hating her, he falls
in love with love. When he calls her on the phone for a date to a
state dinner, she hangs up on him not believing he is the president.
This is one of many scenes that had me rolling in the aisles with
laughter. When he calls her back, she does not know what to say, and
he complains to her that, "Congress doesn't take this long to decide."
Douglas and Bening are both wonderful in the movie. Andy is every
woman's dream date, an extremely handsome man who is the most powerful
man in the world and who is tender and charismatic at the same time.
While wooing her, he tells her that "The White House is the single
greatest home court advantage in the modern world." Sydney is
beautiful, charming, bright, and even allows as how she makes more
money than he does, hence she represents every man's dream date. The
chemistry between them is strong and believable in every scene. At
their first date, he asks her, "how am I doing so far?" As the
flashbulbs go off in the state dinner procession, she answers, "just
your typical first date." I do hope the writer gets an the Academy
There is a great series of scenes where the president attempts to
order flowers himself. His finds his credit cards are locked in
storage in Wisconsin, and no one on the phone will believe he is the
president anyway. In my favorite scene in the show, the president's
long motorcade, stops in front of Carmen's Florist Shop where he pops
in to buy flowers causing the woman cashier inside to faint. This is a
sight gag that really works. The length of that motorcade and the
image of it stopping in the snow for the president to buy flowers for
his girlfriend is extremely funny. The excellent cinematography by
John Seale has this scene in steel blues and shadows rather than the
rich, rosy, and almost regal colors of the rest of the movie.
The lush music by Marc Shaiman is extremely dramatic and romantic.
While the president is walking along making small talk, the music
reinforces his power reminding the audience that everything the
president does is important. The sets by Lilly Kilvert show the
majesty of the presidency while still giving it many human touches.
The costumes by Gloria Gresham again reinforce this duality.
His pollsters and advisors want to know how he is going to deal
with the "Sydney issue." The media keeps a count and has news stories
like "day 15 of the Sydney watch." Meanwhile, Sydney gets to go on
some terrific dates at places like Camp David where she channel surfs
with the president looking for the basketball scores.
The movie is full of great minor characters like Sydney's bottom
line boss, Leo Solomon (John Mahoney). One of my favorite minor roles
is Martin Sheen as A. J. MacInerney, the president's chief of staff.
He is as hard as nails and super loyal. He does not care what the
president stands or does just so long as he gets reelected. He wants
to rent some women surreptitiously for the president so that Andy can
drop Sydney and boost his sinking poll numbers.
The first assistant director of the movie is Frank Capra III.
There is a reference to the movies of his grandfather. Clearly Reiner
intends the movie as sort of a homage to Capra, and the parallels are
Finally, in a scene that shows how out of touch people in the
White House can be, the president's pollster, Leon Kodak (David
Paymer), at a Christmas party says "It's Christmas" to Lewis.
Dumbfounded, Lewis asks, "It's Christmas?". Leon retorts, "You didn't
get the memo?"
THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT runs a fast 1:55. It is rated PG-13 for a
tiny bit of bad language and for references to sex. There is no nudity
or violence. I would have rated it PG, and it would be fine for any
kid older than say eight. Other than the heavy one sided political
messages, I loved the show and recommend it to everyone looking for a
good time at the movies. It gets *** in my book and without the
unnecessary political indoctrination, I could have given it another
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes