The American President Review

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The President of the United States falls for a political lobbyist but press and political speculation threaten to twart the romance before it gets off the ground.


The formerly unimpeachable Rob Reiner may have come a cropper with the ill-conceived and deservedly ignored North, but there's no doubting he's back on track with this. It's a commercial offering with classy performances, snappy, intelligent writing, and good old-fashioned romance turned up to 11. It's easily his best film since When Harry Met Sally, even if it requires the audience to accept the notion of an American president being the embodiment of wholesome, moral valued Americana. But, heck, it's the movies.

The plot is simple. Widowed US premiere Andrew Shepherd (Douglas) enjoys glowing public support and ribbing his fraught White House staff, then, at a meeting with an ecological lobby group, he is confronted with sassy, plain talking, lovely Sydney Ellen Wade (Bening). The result is love, and a series of wonderful set-pieces as the president has to convince a sceptical Wade he's actually asking her out on a date - albeit to a White House banquet for the new president of France.

As romance blossoms with convincing sparkle between the politically opposed couple, events are complicated, naturally enough, by politics. Being the president and falling in love proves no easy combination. A debut clinch is rudely interrupted when the Libyans bomb Israel, and as Shepherd's political opponent (a smarmy Republican Richard Dreyfuss cameo) starts to attack Sydney for political gain and his popularity slips, the wheels and deals of modern politics threaten to ruin everything, leaving time for Shepherd's knock-'em-dead rallying call and the throat-thickening happy ending.

Of course it's hokey and silly, but Reiner really knows how to skirt potential schmaltz and there is a political backbone to the piece which gives it reassuring depth. Scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin has done a polished job of injecting a viewpoint without letting it dominate, or have the political vernacular suffocate the comedy. And the performances Reiner has elicited from the cast are uniformly terrific: Sheen's calm, guiding right hand man, Fox's flustering spin doctor are stand-outs. The film, however, belongs to Douglas and Bening with two marvellously straight performances without psychotics or emotional blow-outs, giving the most credible couple of the year. Oscar's have gone to worse pretenders.

It's a commercial offering with classy performances, snappy, intelligent writing, and good old-fashioned romance turned up to 11.

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