by Amy Borer
Editor in Chief
“The American President,” Rob Reiner’s newest film, which opens today, is a political romantic-comedy with a liberal slant.
Michael Douglas stars as President Andrew Shepherd, a widowed incumbent in an election year, who falls in love with Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening.
After such successes as “Stand by Me,” “When Harry Met Sally…,” “A Few Good Men” and “Misery,” the film is Reiner’s first step into the political arena. He and co-screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, so they prepared by following President Bill Clinton around the White House and interviewed former presidential aides such as Dee Dee Myers, George Stephanopoulos and Mack McLarty.
While the film portrays the chief executive as sophisticated, sympathetic and a liberal Democrat and his challenger as a nasty, right-wing Republican, Reiner is not sorry for this political slant.
“Sure, I made the shallow-thinking and mean-spirited Republican senator played by Richard Dreyfuss the bad guy—but, in my perfect world Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich are the bad guys,” he said in a recent Los Angeles Times article. “When they [conservative media analysts] make their movies, Clinton or Chris Dodd or Dick Gephardt can be the villains.”
Reiner certainly makes the President the good guy in this film. A self-proclaimed card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union, he disregards his slipping public opinion polls and instead follows his heart as he pushes an environmental bill through Congress and wins the affection of the woman he loves.
The true charm of the movie lies in its many hilarious one-liners, except for one ill-timed joke about the Israeli Prime Minister. Aside from the main players in the film, Michael J. Fox, a domestic policy adviser, has some of the best lines that merit the most laughs.
Martin Sheen, Samantha Mathis and Anna Deveare Smith round out the star-studded list of players, as the Secretary of State, Press Adviser and a lobbyist, respectively.
Although the President’s character was too perfect to be real, both as a politician and as a person, the performances by the actors are honest and believable. It provides two hours of refreshing entertainment.
Reiner sums up the idea behind the film by saying, “If the premise of ‘When Harry Met Sally…’ was whether men and women can be friends, the central question in this one is whether you can do the dirty job of being President and still remain a man.”