.

The American President

Annette Bening

Directed by Rob Reiner
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
November 17, 1995

Imagine the hooker played by Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman asking Richard Gere, her millionaire prince charming, to put some of his megabucks into saving the environment and getting handguns off the street. Actually you don't have to imagine it — you can see The American President, an exuberant romantic comedy packing an uneasy political agenda. With an election year ahead, director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have decided to spice their bonbon with some liberal drumbeating.


Michael Douglas, looking cannily Clintonesque, plays the widowed President Andrew Shepherd, a pragmatist who hasn't exactly kept all his promises to the fed-up folks who got him elected. Although the prez enjoys being daddy to 12-year-old Lucy (Shawna Waldron), he is lonely and, frankly, horny. The babe who catches his eye is Sydney Wade (Annette Bening). Sydney is not a hooker, exactly — she's a lobbyist — but we're talking semantics here. The prez walks in on a meeting just as Sydney is mocking his environmental leadership and calling him "the chief executive of fantasyland." She is humiliated; he likes her spirit.

It's a revamped Cinderella story with power as the aphrodisiac, and Douglas and Bening play it to the classy hilt. The courtship scenes in the film's lighter, more deft first half have the bounce of a moonstruck fable. Reiner, with invaluable help from production designer Lilly Kilvert and cinematographer John Seale, turns the White House into an enchanted castle. Sydney's pit-bull defenses melt into prom-queen wonder when the president asks her to dance at a state dinner. Not since Roberts' pretty woman got to shop on Rodeo Drive with her prince's charge card have audiences had such a rush of wish fulfillment. Sorkin also gets much comic mileage out of the protocol of dating the leader of the free world. There's the fuss made by all the president's men — including Martin Sheen (the chief of staff), David Paymer (a pollster) and Michael J. Fox (a domestic adviser), who does a spin on George Stephanopoulos — and the president's women, including Anna Deavere Smith (the press secretary) and Samantha Mathis (a personal aide). There is even a villain; not Bob Dole but Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), the senator who makes a self-serving conservative stink about the prez sneaking the hired gun of an ultraliberal action committee into his bedroom while his daughter sleeps down the hall.

Reiner sparks a large and resourceful cast. This is Bening's best role in years, and she brings to Sydney a crinkly eyed charm that doesn't compromise her intelligence. Douglas' brash humor makes the president most appealing when he is most helpless — ordering flowers, calling for a date, or telling a woman and a nation he was wrong. He also brings conviction to the climactic gun-control speech, meant to show — in Frank Capra fashion — that love can lead a statesman back to his principles. But the speeches belong in another forum. The American President finds more magic and fun when it stays focused on the chief executive of fantasyland.

prev
Movie Review Main Next

ADD A COMMENT

Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...

COMMENTS

Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.

    X

    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories

    “You Oughta Know”

    Alanis Morissette | 1995

    This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

    More Song Stories entries »
    www.expandtheroom.com