2006Director: Paul Weitz
Cast: Hugh Grant, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid
merican Dreamz is an aggressively unfunny movie posing as a broad comedy that feigns satire, but inevitably fails on both fronts. On paper I can accept just about every aspect of this film, and under different circumstances, would have potentially enjoyed it immensely; its attacks are particularly vicious, its targets justifiably deserving, and it shuns any notion of political correctness. However, the film attempts to get by on zeal alone, as if the very notion that it would even attempt such parodies is enough to grant it relevance. In a long history of grave miscalculations, this is by far the gravest.
American Dreamz resembles a drunken buffoon that backs you into a corner at a bar with a string of unfunny jokes. At first, the laughter is nervous and awkward, feeling obliged not to hurt its feelings since it tries so desperately to amuse; but after 90 minutes the laughter fades to beyond nothing, replaced by a mute rage by way of stupendous boredom as one stares blankly at the screen, riding it out until its inevitable end. The joke’s on us, however, as some cruel fate places the film’s runtime near the two-hour mark.
The plot revolves around a scattershot of wildly divergent storylines, embodied by tedious character types all brought together by America’s most popular television show, American Dreamz, which (in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years) stands as a parody of American Idol, hosted by Simon Cowell look-alike Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant). One plot involves small town Karaoke singer Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) whose dreams of stardom don’t include her sniveling go-nowhere boyfriend William Williams (Chris Klein). Another involves a bumbling would-be terrorist and showtune enthusiast Omer (Sam Golzari). And, of course, yet another involves the recently re-elected President Staton (Dennis Quaid), whose recent win has sent him into a reclusion that finds him reading newspapers nonstop to the consternation of his Chief of Staff (played by Willem Dafoe in proper Dick Cheney garb). I could go on, but for the sake of space, and my own sanity, let’s end it there since the film makes little attempt to transmute these eclectic storylines into a worthwhile whole.
The humor in the film is given a priori significance. It assumes its value is based merely on its existence. For example, the idea of a character based on Bush is meant to possess its own inherent humor without any of the observations as to what precisely makes Bush (the person, not the caricature) funny. Arguably, the actual President is a lot funnier than Dennis Quaid’s half-assed impersonation of Will Ferrell’s half-assed impersonation of President Bush, suggesting that his role could have easily been replaced by stock footage of Bush at no loss to the screenplay. And while I have my qualms about the persona of the current leader of the free world, I do not believe for a minute that he would stomp around like a spoiled, stubborn child in his private life. Couldn’t they think of anything funnier than this tired old joke?
I understand that with satire one expects a certain amount of generalization of characters, but Weitz propels his sarcasm to no particular end. Its existence may be provoked by a severity of times in our culture, but it makes no aggravation toward change on the part of the viewer. It undermines any cause with pandering, flat humor that appeals to the masses, believing it’s a lot more observant and biting than it really is. Despite this blunder, I refuse to believe that contemporary cinema no longer holds a place for exceptional satire. More promising films like Thank You for Smoking and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World may fall short of the prize, but at least they imply a step back in the right direction. American Dreamz illustrates just why sarcasm of this caliber may in fact represent the lowest form of wit. You can target everyone at once, or you can hone in your attacks with precision against a single party, but don’t let the images speak for themselves. Before there can be comedy, there must exist observation.