[Spoiler Warning : I might discuss details of the plotline, including parts of the climax...so if you don't wanna know, do not read the rest!]
One would think that a movie with a cheesy title like "American Dreamz" wouldn't necessarily be an interesting watch, or worse, turn out to be a "chick flick"! Or considering that it was directed by Paul Weitz, who in the past has perpetrated such rib-tickling comedies like "American Pie" as director and "American Pie 2" and "American Wedding" in his roles as executive producer, it might be another one in a long series of frat-boy, under-sexed teen-comedies...but every once in a while, something flies under the radar and takes you by surprise...
I happened to bring home the DVD and watched it on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Weitz's take on current American culture and politics with beautiful sarcastic undercurrents makes this movie a real delight to watch - the best part of course, is that the movie is neither obnoxious nor over the top about the topics that it deals with...American strategies in the middle east, the obsession of everyday people with television and reality shows, the lengths that folks will go to for achieving stardom, how the chief executive is perfect only if he is a puppet, etc.
The movie is centered around three different stories, all intertwined around a popular television show, a la American Idol, and aptly named "American Dreamz" (and this is made painfully obvious in the cloying title song - "American dreamz...that's dreamz with a Z"). There is the President of the United States, Joseph Stanton, (leader of the free world as some would like to think) played by Dennis Quaid, and no one is left with the impression that it is anyone but you-know-who (of course if you have any doubts, it is soon dispelled by his wife who seems to be a copy of Laura Bush and his advisor who is modelled after Karl Rove.). After winning his second term, he seems to develop a conscience and a need to get real news from an apocryphal source, such as newspapers (his advisors would rather that he get it from daily news briefings that talk about Dr. Octopus and Magneto being the bad guys).
The second character is Omar Abidi (played by Sam Golzari), an Iraqi orphan, who lost his parents in an American bombing raid and has decided to join a terrorist training camp and infiltrate the United States as a "sleeper agent". Oddly enough, for a terrorist, he seems to love music, especially the Broadway type.
The third story is about Sally Kendoo (portrayed by Mandy Moore) a mid-western, middle class American girl, who has been constantly pushed by her mother to become a television star. She hopes to win the American Dreamz competition to achieve this aim, and will go to any lengths to ensure her victory, even taking back a boyfriend she heartlessly dumped once she knew she was in the competition, just because he was injured in Iraq, and it makes for "good television".
Cast in the role of Master puppeteer, is Hugh Grant as the obnoxious, self-centered, Martin Tweed (molded along the lines of Simon Cowell). He is the producer, host and judge of the American Dreamz show...and it is the absurd, the pathetic and weird that catches his eye...it can be seen when he asks his assistants to find him an Arab and a Jew on the same show...when asked about if they should get an Arab-Jew, he says, "don't be absurd"! He wants the basest types on his show, to maintain the popularity records for the show and himself.
From the time that the president decides to show up as a guest judge on the show, to the terrorists forcing Omar to participate in the show so that he gets a chance to attempt a suicide mission to kill the president, to Sally dumping and then "re-uniting" with her boyfriend, the movie moves along showing how ridiculous turns life can take for seemingly ordinary people. The sad part is that any of this is actually possible in real life, as the tag line for the movie states,
"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."
We get great one-liners, situations, and interestingly, political statements, insightful thoughts, and satire along the way, which, again, sadly, could be true, such as,
"I think my mother wanted me to become president just to prove to my dad that any idiot could become president."
"Why are you reading Canadian newspapers?
"They are our neighbours"
"I think the middle east will never improve from its current position...never...never. And I'm sorry."
You know the movie is not going to end well, when Sally's boyfriend finds her and Martin making out in her dressing room, and he finds the bomb that Omar has discarded. He appears on stage threatening to blow everyone up, and while the audience screams and runs, Martin finds a camera to continue to telecast the situation, and ends up killing himself and the boyfriend, when the camera inadvertently presses the button to set off the bomb...the satirical take on the American media and the public is emphasized, when immediately afterwards a note appears on television screens asking people to vote, and the dead boyfriend wins the contest due to the popular vote! Of course, his outburst is termed as "a post-traumatic stress syndrome", and Sally ends up taking Martin's role as the host of the show...
This movies leaves you with an vague feeling of uneasiness because it seems so reminiscent of reality...
The soundtrack by Stephen Trask also has a vague, haunting feel to it, and this just emphasizes the mood while watching the movie...