PREFACE: Just trying out something new here: 500-word (and I mean EXACTLY 500 words) (not counting this preface) reviews of movies I feel are either timely or significant. Let me know what you think.
“Imagine a country where the President never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next President.” Is it funny because it’s true, or just plain depressing?American Dreamz tries to be a lot of things. It fails at most, but it is a hopeful failure. Too slow to be a good comedy, too gentle to be a biting satire, too optimistic to be an indictment of the so-called “American dream,” it feels like it’s two or three films glued together to make one. I can’t say I enjoyed the film, as I thought it had pacing issues. I also can’t say I don’t recommend watching it. One amazing thing director Paul Weitz pulls off: by the end of the film, we like all the characters.
The character in this film which I found perhaps the most fascinating was Sally Kendoo, a small-town girl whose only dream is to be famous, no matter what the cost. What I found so interesting about this character was that, while it would be so easy to see only her faults, Weitz makes sure that we see the humanity underlying them: we see Kendoo locked in an embrace with her boyfriend while silently mouthing “Are you getting this?” to her camcorder-wielding agent, but we also get a moment to sympathize with her, when she delivers a spellbinding monologue about how she weighed 200 pounds when she was ten years old and decided that she would either lose 90 pounds by the time she turned fourteen or she would kill herself.
This monologue took me by surprise. It came late in the film and the whole thing was seeming rather insipid, but then this change of tone comes along when the main character, whom we’ve grown to hate over the course of an hour, starts telling us about how popular she became after she was thin, not only with her classmates, but with strangers on the street and even her teachers, and you start to feel sorry for her. Still, this monologue is mishandled—it seems to be presented as humorous, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why Weitz thought this would be funny—and even should it have succeeded in changing the tone of the movie, it wouldn’t have been enough to save it.
So what would I have done differently? I would have scaled it back. To make the movie funnier, I would have sped up the plot by removing all of the intentionally funny bits. Let the situational irony take control. I would have paid more attention to visuals, and stylized the hell out of the reality that these characters inhabit. I would have taken the perspective of an omniscient alien intelligence trying to figure out what was up with America. And I would have given all the characters a chance to become more than the stereotypes they portray.