The American President Reviews
President Shepherd (Douglas), a widower with a precocious daughter, is immensely popular, carrying a 63 percent approval rating that may be too high for modern political observers to imagine. But it takes the love of a good woman, lobbyist Sydney Wade (Annette Bening), to transform Shepherd from a deal-maker into a truly principled leader.
President Speak: "The idea of physical intimacy is uncomfortable because you only know me as the President. But it's not always going to be that way!"
Needless to say, there's something distinctly unique about this film which deals with a regular woman beginning a romantic relationship with a fictionalized US president while he's simultaneously working to run a country, but within that refreshing broad premise are plotting details that are not so fresh, hitting more than a few '90s rom-com tropes hard enough to take on some histrionics that would be easier to swallow if the superficial fluff wasn't sometimes jarringly broken up by some kind of a political sharpness. There's a bit of unevenness to this film's thematic weight, which dances between fluffy and politically heavy so jarringly that, while your average audience member isn't likely to be thrown off to the point of being totally repelled from the film, it gets to be kind of difficult to fully figure out just who in the world is being targeted by this film. I suppose the thematic inconsistency isn't as off-putting as I make it sound, but it's still more disconcerting than the pacing unevenness, which is, of course, not too much of a problem, but still noticeable, as the film will dance between rushed to the point of thinning out expository depth that could have fleshed the uniqueness of this story and its characters more, and steady to the point of being kind of repetitious. The film is a little bit uneven, and such inconsistency in theme and momentum is bound to throw off some people, but really, if you think that I'm all but stretching to find particularly notable shortcomings in this film, well, you're right. There really aren't that many errors in storytelling, and what errors it makes, such as the inconsistencies, are hardly glaring, so what threatens this film the most is, of course, its lacking meat, because as intriguing and competently done as this film is, at the end of the day, it's not too much more than a relatively outstanding fluff piece, something that can never be all that outstanding. The film ultimately rewards pretty surely, but such reward value comes from a lot of effort, because there are some serious limitations in weight, and that, alongside conventional areas an inconsistencies, is enough for the final product to run the risk of collapse into underwhelmingness. Of course, like I said, reward value is achieved quite surely, as the film powers through its shortcomings enough to stand out as pretty endearing more often than not, or at least turn in some strengths that aren't necessarily outstanding, but still commendable.
Marc Shaiman earned an Oscar nomination for his score for this film, and really, I can't really see, or rather, hear why, as Shaiman's efforts are unevenly used, formulaic and lacking in kick, though that's not to say that I can't still give Shaiman's score quite a deal of compliment, as there is a warmth to it that may make the more overly fluffy moments feel kind of overblown, but just as often help greatly in livening things up, though not quite like Aaron Sorkin. "The West Wing" was not yet unveiled to the world by 1995, so it was through this film when Sorkin showed audiences everywhere that he knows a thing or two about sharp political entertainment, and boy, did he deliver, because if nothing else is sharp about this film, it's Soarkin's script, which has its conventional bits, and cannot completely overshadow natural shortcomings, but whose more political aspects are about as intelligent and intricately approached as they can be by a liberal writer, and whose more fluffy aspects are brought to life by excellent dialogue and colorful characterization that really flavor things up. This film is pretty smart, and that really gets the final product going a relatively long way, yet no matter how sharp Sorkin's efforts are, what can make or break the reward value of a film this fluffy is the sharpness of the directorial execution of a sharp script. Rob Reiner does what he does best with this film: taking a very steady approach to storytelling, which can mean some serious blandness, but can also mean endearing the thoughtfulness, something that is achieved more often than not by Reiner's almost subtle tastes as director, resulting in a light atmospheric color that subtly draws quite a bit of entertainment value, and even proves to be kind of touching at times. If nothing else, Reiner's subtly flavorful atmosphere endears as thoroughly charming, and while that, alone, isn't going to be enough to secure reward value, the color within Reiner's ambitious efforts, combined with the color of Sorkin's ambitious efforts, ignite as serious sharpness that you see only so often in films of this type, resulting in a surprising reward value that is ultimately finalized, not by the offscreen talent, but the onscreen talent. We're looking at fictional figures within a fluff piece, so, of course, the performers aren't being asked to transform into anyone or deliver on all that much of the dramatic range they're known for doing so well, but most every member of this remarkably star-studded cast delivers, with leading man Michael Douglas particularly standing out with an electric charisma, augmented when Douglas and Annette Bening hit the scene together, sharing static chemistry between them that sells the romance which anchors this film. Douglas' and Bening's charm, alone, powers much of the enjoyment value of the final product, but our leads are not the only endearing aspects here, as there is enough sharpness to writing and direction to bypass potential underwhelmingness and ultimately drive the final product to an unexpectedly rewarding point.
When it's time to resign, the film leaves behind enough conventionalism, thematic and pacing unevenness, and natural shortcomings to drive a lesser fluff piece into underwhelmingness, but through warm score work by Marc Shaiman, an intelligent and delightfully snappy script by Aaron Sorkin, endearingly thoughtful storytelling by Rob Reiner, and electric charisma and chemistry between leads Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, "The American Product" doesn't simply charm, but compels enough to reward as a thoroughly entertaining and pretty sharp affair.
3/5 - Good
As the story plays out, we see just how hard it would be for a single president to get to know a woman romantically. The media crush, as well as the security concerns would be tough to overcome. President Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is also hog-tied by the fact that the environmental legislation Ms. Sydney Wade (Annette Bening) wants him to sign is having trouble making it through congress. He is forced to make a choice. Dump the environmental legislation and pass a crime bill, or push his girlfriend's legislation and have it likely go down as a political failure. Tough call! Most guys only have to figure out how not to spend time with their girlfriend's family or things like that.
Michael Douglas and Annette Bening shine in the lead roles, and the supporting actors (Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, David Paymer and the others) are outstanding.
Hilarious moment...watching the president of the United States ordering flowers for his date.