Genre: Romantic Drama and Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: November 17th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Rob Reiner Actors: Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Samantha Mathis, David Paymer, Richard Dreyfuss, Anna Deavere Smith, Nina Siemaszko
resident of the United States Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) walks through the White House, closely followed by aide Janie (Samantha Mathis), the woman who keeps his hectic day in order. As he greets various employees, whose names escape him, he’s additionally joined by speechwriter Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox), Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen), and advisors/strategists Leon Kodak (David Paymer) and Robin McCall (Anna Deavere Smith). Although it’s an election year, he’s currently enjoying a 63% approval rating, which bodes well for November. Nevertheless, he’s currently working on a crime bill, which he hopes will bolster his reelection campaign.
However, it’s his personal life that poses some weaknesses. Despite a well-adjusted daughter (Shawna Waldron) and a staff that respects him (there’s a conspicuous number of smiling faces and unbelievable, chummy behavior; this is an eerily idealistic view of Oval Office goings-on, complete with uncommonly good-natured politicians), he’s a widower – which weighs heavily on his mind. So when the environmental lobby hires lawyer (and closer) Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening) to push for a stronger global warming bill, Andrew can’t help feeling a connection to the attractive woman. But she’s all business; if she can secure a number of votes for a 20% reduction in fossil fuel emissions, the President guarantees her that he’ll get the remaining votes necessary to pass a bill with the seemingly inaccessible number – all by the upcoming State of the Union address in a couple of months.
“This used to be easier.” Amid the political conversations and the bustling wheeling-and-dealing of campaigners and congressional negotiators, “The American President” is ultimately about the procedures, expectations, and complications of a single man in a position of power attempting to date. If it’s challenging for regular people, it’s exceptionally burdensome for the leader of the Free World, especially since the public tends to scrutinize every move and every association. A drop in points is inevitable – and a scandal is highly likely.
“Sydney, this is just dinner. We’re not going to be doing espionage or anything.” Situational humor and sugary romance are at the forefront, pushing to the background the lingering unlikeliness of so many affable politicians and associates – and a largely airy atmosphere – particularly when they’re privy to information that could be so damaging (or easy to manipulate) in the hands of opponents. There is a villain in the mix, wickedly portrayed by Richard Dreyfuss as a Republican rival, but some of the most pressing conflicts come in the form of tough decisions regarding international warfare (curiously, Shepherd has a conscience when it comes to military attacks). And yet, in the most unrealistic fashion – as can only exist in the movies – the President’s demeanor remains normal, sensible, and pleasant, as if an ordinary human being.
“This has catastrophe written all over it.” When the focus is on romantic comedy, the film is breezy and amusing; but when it switches to dramas involving fundraising and campaigning and clashes for political gain, it grows stickier, since it doesn’t approach these topics with sincerity. It’s hard to imagine that party priorities don’t top personal dalliances. There’s simply too much to lose when it comes to this kind of power, and Andrew subscribes to some unidentifiable playbook on fairness. But at least the romantic stuff is excellent; flirtations are sweet and the love patter is heartfelt. In the end, it boils down to personal promises, not public perception, threatening not the American people but a mere relationship, which is the center of this tale. The combination of love and politics isn’t entirely smooth, and the politics portion is handled like pure fantasy, but the romantic elements are convincing and memorable.
– Mike Massie