Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clyde's Movie Palace: American Dreamz (2006)

 

Clyde’s Stuff is not the first blog I’ve written and it may not be the last. The first one was something called American Crossroads. It was nothing but politics from cover to cover and was started during the 2004 Presidential race on the old AOL community pages.

After that went belly up and AOL deleted their blog pages,  I worked on some fictional stories. In the middle of one of these stories it became necessary for me to write in depth about the discrimination faced by gay teens, and the fear they had to live with because of hate crimes. This was almost seven years ago, and the story is still around.  Good luck finding it though.  I have buried it in obscurity…at least for now.  It was in fact a sequel to something else I had written. 
 
Shortly after finishing that story I got an email from a reader who complained that she and her husband both worked, they had kids to raise, and the last thing she wanted to be bothered with after a long day was the realities of what was happening in the real world. She insisted she only wanted to be entertained. And she was not alone.

I’ve heard this same retort on many occasions, and it’s one of the reasons I finally threw in the towel on the political front. If most of the populace wants to sit around and watch The X Factor, while trying to stifle a yawn when it comes to how the good old USA is being managed by our corporate owned politicians, legislatures both state and federal, and supreme court justices,  who am I to argue? 

In previous off and on years (sometimes it’s the best of times with me, more often the worst of times with me) when I wrote on Clyde's Stuff, the response I received regarding everything I have written about American Idol completely dwarfs the total response I’ve had of all my political articles put together. That includes a few hundred political essays in my general original American Crossroads blog. (I had the name before Karl Rove stole it. If I had known, I would have kept it.  So what does the past history of my blogging endeavors have to do with American Dreamz? Practically everything.

In American Dreamz, writer and director Paul Weitz unabashedly skewers Bush, Cheney, politics, American Idol, and the public that watches it and other shows like Idol such as The Bachelor, The X Factor, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice all in the same breath. That’s quite a bit of satire to cram into a one hour and forty-seven minute movie, but somehow Weitz manages to pull it all together.

In the parallel world of American Dreamz President Staton (Dennis Quaid) has just been re-elected in a hard fought campaign. Left to his own devices Staton is non functional. In fact, he’s  never read a newspaper. It is his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) who controls his every movement right down to telling Staton what to say through a hidden receiver placed in his ear canal.

One morning President Staton decides to take it easy and do something he has never done before. He is going to read a newspaper.
“We do have one of those around, don’t we,” he asks his assistance. “I’m sure we do, but if we don’t we can get you one.”


Having read his first newspaper, it is an eye opener. Staton becomes addicted and begins reading anything and everything as if he were discovering his first Harry Potter story. And Staton learns from what he reads:
President Staton: Did you know there are two kinds of Iraqistanis? [the First Lady (Marcia Gay Harden)  holds up three fingers]
President Staton: I mean, actually, three?
Chief of Staff: You mean Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds?
President Staton: You knew about this?
Simon Cowell clone Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) produces, hosts, and judges contestants on his version of American Idol called American Dreamz. He’s shallow, manipulative, and thinks way too highly of himself. His show is the highest rated program on television. When we first meet him he has a girlfriend.

 
She loves him. She does everything for him:
Jessica: (who comes into the room just as Martin is getting the latest ratings numbers from his fax): How are the numbers?
Martin: Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Jessica: Did you hear what I said? I’m leaving you.
Martin (back still turned): Yeah, I heard. Yeah.
Jessica: I’m not kidding.
Martin (turning around smiling): I know. Look, I think it’s an excellent decision on your part.
Jessica: (looking incredulous): You do?
Martin: You’re a fantastic person and the last year’s been great, really. You’re beautiful, the sex has been wonderful, you’re kind and supportive. You wait for me with dinner when I work late, you’re amazing. And it’s driving me out of my fucking mind! You know with numbers like this, this should be the happiest day of my life. And instead I have to worry about whether I make you happy all the time. Jessica, sweetheart, you make me feel like being a better person. And I’m not a better person. I’m Me.
Jessica: I feel sorry for you.
Martin: Don’t. I certainly don’t. In fact, I envy myself deeply.

Girlfriend or not, Martin will never be completely happy because of one minor irritant. He has to host American Dreamz, something he absolutely abhors.

Each season becomes more of a challenge to find the right contestants to drive his ratings higher because being number one in all demographics just isn’t enough for Tweed. “One can go up, but they must never go down,” he tells his assistants. 

To do this he has to choose the right contestants that Americans can love, identify with, and sympathize with, or hate, despise, and loathe if they so desire.  Bad contestants are just as important as good contestants. Or as Martin tells his young staff of talent scouts:

Let’s go out there and get some great contestants. And I don’t just mean talented. I mean human and by human I mean flawed and by flawed I mean freaks. Bring me some freaks. Let’s make this a show that even I can watch.
Their singing prowess has little or nothing to do with whether they will win or not. Case in point, Sally Kendoo.

Sally Kendoo’s (Mandy Moore) one big dream is not only to appear on American Dreamz but to win it all. Anything less would be considered a major fail. She wants a career, and wants out of the crummy mom, apple pie, baseball, hotdog, boring backwoods town she resides in that even has a shit  sounding name: Padookie, Ohio.
Sally’s Boyfriend Willie (Chris Klein): Sally, this is your dream, you’ve always wanted to be on TV.
Sally: No, I’ve always wanted to be a star.
Willie: Isn’t that the same thing?
Sally: No Willie it’s not the same thing. Any idiot can be on TV nowadays. All you have to do is swap your wife or eat a sheep’s anus or something.
Willie: Yes, yes. But you are going to sing.
Sally: Yeah, I’m gonna sing. I’m gonna sing and I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough! (At which point Sally throws her mirror across the room breaking it.)
Willie: (pointing at the broken mirror) Seven years!
Sally: No, you know what I am? I am the best karaoke singer in this county of Ohio. I am going to go all the way out there, right? And I’m gonna come right back home and lose in the first round because I’m Just….I’m not good enough!
Willie: No way!
Sally: Yes.
Willie: No Way!
Sally: Yes!
Willie: No way! No way! No way! You’re cute. You’ve got a great voice, you got personality. And you got a great voice. And I think you’re going to win the whole damn thing! And for some reason those folks have their head up their stinkholes, and you don’t win for whatever reason, I’m not gonna love you any less. I’m gonna love more because I see your real beauty and I don’t need no TV show to show it to me. Honey, I got some big news today too. I’m being made assistant manager, plumbing fixtures. Assistant manager. And you know what happens next? Manager, plumbing fixtures.

Since Willie laid bared his heart and soul while relating to Sally his deepest innermost feelings, showing her how much he cared, giving her all of his love he could possibly give, Sally wraps her arms around him, kisses him passionately, and they begin to make screw each others brains out.  Well, not exactly. Maybe in some romantic comedy on Lifetime. But baby, this isn’t Reality Television, this is reality life.
Sally: Willie, I think it’s time we broke up.
Willie: What?
Sally: It’s just…I don’t think it’s working anymore.
Willie: Sure, it is. It’s going great.
Sally: Not really. No, your life is here. And my life is….swooooosh…  (points her hand upwards) Or maybe it’s……(imitates plane crashing) But either way see, I can’t take you with me.
Willie: But I love you. I love you damn it; you can’t do this to me. No listen; you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t take it.
Sally: You stay up here and cry. I’m going to go down and greet my fans.
It is no coincidence that this scene is eerily similar to the break-up scene between Martin and Jessica.  Willie decides to join the Army, to find and give new meaning to his life now that Sally has dumped him. So he stops to tell her goodbye for the last time:
Mrs. Kendoo (Jennifer Coolidge): Hello William
Willie: Hi, Mrs. Kendoo. I just came by to say good-bye to Sally.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, have you up and joined the Army?
Willie: I have, Mrs. Kendoo. I just feel like since Sally dumped me, my life has been meaningless. So, I’m trying to find meaning by defending my country. And I just wanted to tell Sally that.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, William. That’s very sincere of you. But Sally isn’t here. She’s in New York meeting with agents.
Willie: Agents?
Mrs. Kendoo: They’re folks that uh…They act greedy and mean for you so that you can seem like a nice person.
Willie: But Sally is a nice person. So I’m not going to get to see her then, am I?
Mrs. Kendoo: I’m afraid not, William.
Willie: Well, you just tell her that wherever I am I will be thinking of her. And I got her face tattooed on my arm. It’s from our prom photo.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, it’s beautiful work.
Willie  is sent to Iraq two weeks after a quick cram course in basic training to become cannon fodder. He promptly gets shot and returns home as a wounded vet just in time for Sally to reunite with him because according to her new agent it will make a better back story for her to win the American Dreamz title.

Omer Obeidi (Sam Golzari) is a terrorist in Afghanistan, training with his cousin in a Taliban camp while at the same time making a training video for other terrorists. But Omer is not very good at terrorizing. He’s mostly a screw up and continually messes up the video shoot much to the chagrin of the director.
His main thrill in life is listening to American show tunes on old records left to him by his mother who was allegedly killed by an American bomb. Later, when Omer is caught listening and dancing to his sound track records by his cousin, is sent to the United States to live with relatives in Orange County, California until he is needed.

Omer’s Cousin: Look, I’ve got some news for you. Your papers came through. You are leaving next week for Frankfort and from there to Orange, County. You’ll be staying at our mutual cousins. They know nothing of your purpose there. You are to just wait until your sleeper cell contacts you.
Omer: When will that be?
Omer’s Cousin: (exiting the tent): Never.
While staying in California with his wealthy relatives, Omer is  mistaken for his cousin Igbal (Tony Yalda) while performing a musical number and given the chance to appear on American Dreamz because Martin Tweed has decided that besides the masturbation inspiring girl from Ohio, he wants an Arab and a Jew.

Later,  President Staton decides to appear at the finals of American Dreamz as a judge after being in hiding for several weeks.  Omer is recruited to blow Staton up and sacrifice  himself by wearing a bomb on stage.  That is if he even makes it to the final.

Grant is great as Tweed. In fact, one almost wishes he hosted the real show. His criticisms of the contestants are biting as he sits in judgment in a chair from the audience as if he is a god telling America who gets to enter the pearly gates and who gets a quick drop down the chute to hell, all the while looking bored with the whole process.
Tweed: It’s up to you America, only you have the awesome power to lift someone up into the heavens and create a new star.
Martin Tweed, Judge Juror Executioner American Dreamz
As Grant plays Tweed, he would be the kind of self-centered ego maniac you would hate living next to you or to be associated with, unless you’re Sally Kendoo, but in the confines of the TV screen he somehow manages to be almost likable.

Mandy Moore has played the bad girl before in a wonderful film called Saved! As Sally Kendoo she’s just as bad, uncaring, self centered and as cold as Boss Tweed. It’s a match made in heaven.  As Gump might say, they go together like peas and carrots.

She wants to win at all costs but is as calculating as Tweed is about how that goal is achieved. In fact Tweed and Kendoo are mirror images of each other as attested to by their similar earlier break up scenes.

Moore does a good job here of reflecting that. When Tweed makes a rare trip to visit her in Padookie, she’s smart enough to know that he isn’t there for her to suck up to him.  He has in fact learned that her reunion with Willie isn’t exactly on the up and up, and that she is using Willie to advance her own agenda on American Dreamz.  But Martin is far from angry about it.
Martin: I heard Padookie was an exciting town, I thought I would check it out. (Sally stares at Martin blankly) That was a joke.
Sally: I’m aware.
Martin: You didn’t laugh
Sally: It wasn’t funny.
Martin: No. But why didn’t you laugh just to kiss my ass?
Sally: I figured you didn’t need me to kiss your ass. I mean, I’m sure you have people kissing your ass 24 hours a day. And I guess like not kissing your ass is like kissing your ass for most people.
Martin: Absolutely right. That's weird; one can become quite detached from reality when one's famous.
Sally Kendoo: Really? That sounds so cool.
Martin: Yeah, it can be.
 
 
 
 
 

Quaid somehow manages to turn Staton's lack of intellectual prowess into a child-like innocence. He is likable, because he doesn’t bathe in his ignorance like it’s a badge of honor.

Unlike his Bush counterpart in the real world, Staton's stupidity does not come from arrogance and having everything handed to him on a silver platter. He's gone through life unchallenged because there's always been someone telling him how great he is and someone else who is more than willing to be at his beck and call.

There's just been no need for him to wise up. And when he does began to read and see things as they really are, it has a profound effect. He wears an ear piece, and Sutter tells him what to say, but he finds it frustrating and phony. Staton compares himself to being a placebo, once he finds out what a placebo is.
 
The real surprise here is Sam Golzari as Omer the Terrorist who thinks he should  avenge his mother’s death but knows he isn’t quite cut out for the job. He just not ready to meet Allah, especially when the guy that gives him the mission tells him he’ll meet him in the afterlife also…..in a number of years that is. The biggest problem for Omer to overcome is that he begins to like it here along with most of the people.  The question Omer asks himself is whether or not you can  hold the citizens of a country responsible for the decisions made by those in power?

Weitz leaves no stone unturned in his skewering of our infatuation with pop culture and celebrity icons, so much so that we will vote for the manufactured image of our president rather than be bothered with the annoying details of how he might actually run the country, or what corporation or special interests groups are pulling the strings of our government leaders. He understands that many in the audience view reality shows as if somehow they are a reflection of real life.

In the wrong hands all of this could have been too heavy handed and dreary, but Weitz keeps things light enough so that we can laugh at ourselves while still giving us some things to think about. But the problem as I have found, and perhaps one Weitz fully didn’t comprehend when he made this film is that way too many Americans are more than willing to laugh at some over exposed nitwit on a reality show, but they aren’t willing to laugh at the biggest joke of all: They’re own over infatuation with those very nitwits balanced by their lackadaisical lip service approach to the who what when where and how they are being governed.

There are a lot of laughs and memorable moments in American Dreamz and you’ll be thoroughly entertained, as long as you have no problem laughing at not only the situation of the world around you but by laughing at yourself also. No doubt there will be many who won’t get the joke.  They will no doubt be offended by the  over the top satirical portrait Weitz has concocted.

They  are the ones who still believe that everything they see on not just American Idol but all reality shows is the real, uncensored and unedited truth to the point that they actually believe they are voting for the best singer/dance/performer  in the country. The others who may be offended, and probably very much so, will be the those who still believe we are operating under a government by the people, for the people, and of the people instead of facing the fact that we are all nothing more than pawns in a government of the corporations, by the power, and for the very rich. And still there will be most of the audience, who will fail to see any correlation between Weitz's film and the real world at all.

It doesn't matter though. I had a good time watching it and I saw enough to realize that for all of its satirical slant, Weitz strikes pretty close to home. So that leaves me no choice but to give American Dreamz my grade and I have decided that American Dreamz is a saucy little minx that deserves a well earned B+.  You’ve now been Omerized!

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