The American President
Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Aaron Sorkin, “The American President” deftly juggles the politcal and romantic spheres in an intelligent and ultimately relatable way, using the symbiosis of both to explain each other.
Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a president who was elected admittedly by one of the smallest margins in history after the death of his wife during the campaign. However upon meeting Sidney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), a lobbyist for liberal environmentalists who inadvertadly labels the President “the Chief Executive of Fantasyland”; sparks fly and romance soon blossoms. Meanwhile, Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), the Republican candidate for president takes this change in relationship status to mean that the president is now open for personal attacks that were otherwise uncouth.
Douglas sparkles in his portrayal of a figure that later gave rise to the “West Wing”, but the extent to which he is idealized in his capabilities is extended exponentially.So great is his magnetism that if this received enough replays on TV, I wouldn’t doubt his name would be added to the ballots in 2012. Whereas President Bartlett passes a flawed gun control bill, Shepherd is able to swat it away with a wave of his hand and bring something far more effective to the field. Thankfully, it is not politics that he has on his mind for the most part and when the ending is in sight and oratory is required, Douglas delivers with true zeal. That he is much more adept at charm and romance than espousing liberal ideas is clear, these best left to the, at worst pithy, supporting cast. Bening gleefully assumes the role of a woman with the polling knowledge of FiveThirtyEight with the lobbying skills of Aaron Eckhart in “Thank You For Smoking”, all the while balancing this with a homely and affable proficiency in “aww shucks” appeal. It does not always hit the mark squarely, but overall maintains a likability for her that is mesmerizing.
Despite this largely being a fairy tale and the practical considerations involved with a president dating, the time given to concerns such bed time chatter and the settings for their milestone relationship moments can often feel pushed too far, Sorkin obviously uncomfortable with such matters. Reiner however, known for comedies such as “When Harry Met Sally”, squeezes as much comedy out of these moments and others as possible leading to fantastic scenes such a 5am phone call. These generally involve the supporting cast, such as Michael J Fox as Lewis Rothschild opining that “It’s always the young guy in my job who winds up doing 18 months in Danbury Minimum Security Prison”. Martin Sheen as Shepherd’s Chief of Staff and best friend also puts in a rousing and less overtly entertaining take on public office and romance.
Regardless of its flaws, the piece is an inconspicuously entertaining and intelligent take on romance, in a genre that is largely left to the derivatives and most unintelligible of characters.