"California Dreamin'" is an independent movie written and directed by Cristian Nemescu with the writing of Catherine Linstrum and Tudor Voican. Based on a true story, a U.S. military officer Doug Jones played by Armand Assante leads a train full of Marines and equipment on the way to a NATO outpost when they are delayed in a village stuffed with bureaucracy, strange pop culture traditions, and romance. Said to be "one of the best films about how American is perceived abroad ever made" by the Washington Post, this socio-political satire tries to illustrate that truth can be more absurd than fiction.
Right away this "comedy" begins on a downer with a reminder that the film is a tribute to the director who died in a tragic car accident. Then the film opens in the 1940s as a bombing is taking place in a residential area. Then it flashes forward to May 1999 where a platoon of American Marines has arrived in Romania with a military radar shipment to be deployed near the Serbian border to aid NATO air raids. While passing through a town on train, they are stopped by the locals and citing paperwork requirements manage to keep them there for several days.
All the characters have different objectives working against each other. The major of the village wants the Americans' stay to be as pleasant as possible so sets up a village celebration to try to drum up interest in investing in their local budget with lots of red, white, and blue flags and even an Elvis impersonator. One of my favorite moments is when a Romanian decides to play "Achy Breaky Heart" on the radio to warm those American hearts (and wallets). The teacher in a classroom attempts to educate the children about the country of the United States and he brings up of points of interest like, "Washington is the capital even though it isn't the largest city." The women are hoping to bag a U.S. soldier so they try to master the art of seduction quickly. There are factory workers on strike who want to buy the factory themselves to secure their children's future. And of course, the Americans just want to continue on their mission as quickly as possible and get out of there and clumsily offer bribes that aren't taken.
After over two hours watcher time and five days movie time of stalemate between the Americans and the Romanians, a giant fight breaks out seemingly out of nowhere with bats and some people including a main character are bludgeoned to death (not involving the Americans). The comedy stops here. It feels like an abrupt end to a long, wordy movie.
If you enjoyed "In the Loop" for its satire, you'll enjoy the tone here. What I enjoyed about "In the Loop" was mainly the many creative ways the characters insulted each other, but the humor here is mainly in the way other countries view America and how the Romanians try to use their knowledge of the country to relate and appeal to the Marines. At one point the Captain gives a huge rallying speech to the people where he wants them all to unite together for one purpose and while it was part of his larger character arc, it just didn't hook the way it normally would because it didn't seem to fit in this movie. The movie was in the process of being edited when its director died and as a tribute, no one else touched what he had put together so some issues like the length of the movie and scenes that didn't quite fit well enough may have been cut in retrospect but we'll never know. If you decide to check this one out, be prepared to leave the subtitles on with all the switching between English and Romanian and even a bit of Spanish.
A trailer. Woot! The movie itself is over two and a half hours long, I'm spent.