Andrew Shepherd is approaching the end of his first term as President of the United States. He's a widower with a young daughter and has proved to be popular with the public. His election seems assured. That is until he meets Sydney Ellen Wade, a paid political activist working for an environmental lobby group. He's immediately smitten with her and after several amusing attempts, they finally manage to go on a date (which happens to be a State dinner for the visiting President of France). His relationship with Wade opens the door for his prime political opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, to launch an attack on the President's character, something he could not do in the previous election as Shepherd's wife had only recently died. Written by
Perhaps the Best Comedy in Three Decades; Moving, Human and Believable
"The American President" was the source of the later dramatic television series success "The West Wing". Apparently, statist influencers in the U.S. have become so successful at warping the real by "spin" that many people could not understand this seminal film, especially those incompetent reviewers who masquerade as professional critics. It is by any standard of reason I suggest 1. authentic in its meticulously presented milieu, characters and dialogue, 2. an appealing classically romantic comedy and 3. a wonderfully satiric juxtaposition between the American--the self-responsible--qualities of even a president and his vulnerability to pseudo-religious moralizing attacks as he tries to access his individual rights in a nation gone constitutionally insane under the urging of Postmodernists. All this widower president wants at the beginning is a date with a feisty environmental lobbyist; later he wants her as a girl friend, and vice versa, with a a chance to explore their growing relationship. This simple human dignity is compromised as a right by the opposition party's leading candidate, who uses innuendo and false headlining to undermine the man's public popularity and threaten two vital bills both the president and the lobbyist are trying to get through a stone-walling Congress. Rob Reiner directs in a serious and lyrical way dialogue and character revelations that in lesser hands might have been slow or worse; in my judgment the pace never falters for an instant. Aaron Sorkin 's memorable script takes in issues, personalities, levels of relationship and supervision that I believe were both difficult and rewarding with uncommon precision and skill. As the "American"--individual, realist, pro- rights--president, Michael Douglas achieves award level simplicity and command at the same time, something which he had been growing toward for two decades. Only players with shorter roles--John Mahoney, and White House staffers--are really exactly right in their roles; but the clarity of the characters presented in the film's script is so strong, owing the the power of the central character and his categorical value of individualism, that sincere performances become exceptional. Annette Benning is attractive and passable as the lobbyist--first girl friend; Martin Sheen is acceptable as Douglas's aide; but no one is outstandingly good I claim nor unacceptable; their believability I suggest is produced by the ideas and values they are representing. Michael J. Fox's speech level is inadequate as the committed, immature aide; Samantha Mathis and Shawna Waldron and Leon Kodak, Anna Deavere Smith, Richard Dreyfuss, Gail Strickland, and many others get small telling moments; the film centers so well I claim on the president and his lady that all else become background, mosaic pieces in a larger picture, observing, relating to, or commenting on the main thrust of action--a president doing his job and asking his rights. This centrality leading to unforgettable scenes is a quality only the best films possess--"The Guns of Navarone", "The Fountainhead", "Gone With the Wind" and "Bend of the River", for instance. In a comedy, this is a rare achievement therefore. Marc Shaiman's music is unobtrusive and occasionally moving; Gloria Gresham's costumes and the production design by Lilly Kilvert aid the film's hard-won credibility. Cinematography by John Seale and Art Direction by John Warnke are outstandingly believable. I suggest the producers Charles Newirth, Rob Reiner, Barbara Maltby and Jeffrey Stott have achieved something as rare here as was achieved in "An Affait to Remember", "The Bridal Path", "You Came Along" and "Operation Petticoat" and other service-based idea-level satires--something lasting, emotionally satisfying and unusually profound for any genre.
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