On my birthday, while in line for a ride for at Disney’s California Adventure theme park, I stopped mid-sentence and said to my friend, “I know this song. Why do I know this song?” That song was the main theme from the 1995 Rob Reiner film, The American President.
Back in the summer of 2012, I discovered Aaron Sorkin through his HBO series The Newsroom. I loved it because its fast paced dialogue and romantic antics reminded me of the screwball comedies I grew up watching. Of course, when I mentioned the show to my brother, he was like, “Well, yeah. That’s Sorkin.”
I binged The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip…if it was Sorkin, I watched it! And during this Sorkin binge, I discovered that another one of my mom’s favorite movies was actually written by him too. The American President was played several times during my childhood and since my brother and dad routinely made fun of it (mostly cause my mom watched it SO many times), I never thought it was high art.
A few years ago, I re-watched it and realized just how brilliant it was. It’s very much a prototype for what Sorkin’s signature style became and I fell in love with it. It has everything I love – idealism and fun and great one liners!
If you’ve never seen The American President, the Rob Reiner film follows POTUS, Andrew Shepard (Michael Douglas) who develops a crush on the new head of the environmental lobby, Sydney Ellen-Wade (Annette Bening). The crush becomes a relationship, but of course politics complicate everything. Couple that with the fact that Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), Shepard’s nemesis, decides to run for President….craziness ensues!
Here are just a few reasons you should watch it ASAP.
Okay, so main cast first. Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepard. He’s at his best because he’s got Sorkin’s dialogue coming out of his mouth.
Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade is also fantastic. She delivers some of the best lines – most notably one my mom still can’t quote correctly about her sister having to live with regret. Ha.
In addition, the film’s supporting cast is filled with wonderful characters actors. Martin Sheen plays the President’s right hand man, which is ironic considering he plays the POTUS in Sorkin’s The West Wing a few years later. It’s almost as if he was auditioning.
Scandal fans will be excited to see Joshua Malina – David Rosen in Scandal – as David, Sydney’s co-worker. We can’t tell if he has a crush on her or what…not that it matters. Sydney is obviously into the President.
Also, people seem to forget Michael J. Fox. Little trivia: Fox had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s before the film started shooting and he was afraid that during a routine physical before the movie, they’d find it with the small shaking in his hands. He’s in one of my favorite moments of the film.
Jon Mahoney is also wonderful as Leo Solomon, Sydney’s boss. I know him as Diane Court’s father in Say Anything. Once again, he proves that he’s a very underrated character actor.
Last, but certainly not least, Richard Dreyfuss plays Senator Bob Rumson, Douglas’s opponent. He’s revels in his character’s evilness.
Sorkin is a master of dialogue and witty banter. The American President is filled with great lines. Probably my favorite is POTUS telling Sydney, “Let’s take him outside and beat the shit out of him” right after she insulted him not knowing he was in the room.
When Sydney is going through security at the White House, she tells the guard that she’s savoring the Capra-esque qualities which is funny because Frank Capra III was the 1st Asst Director. The dialogue is very Capra-esque which is probably one of the reasons the film struck a cord with me.
The score of this film composed by Marc Shaiman is sweeping and romantic. You can’t not feel patriotic and idealistic just listening to it.
Yeah, does this film really show what the White House is like? Um, no. Instead, Sorkin shows us the world that could be. This film is proof that old-style idealism and romance are still alive and well…or at least, they were in 1995. What made me fall in love with The Newsroom was that it took screwball romantic comedy antics and married it to well meaning values. The same is true in The American President. The ideals the film perpetuates are real and still resonate, even twenty-one years later. But, hey, I mean, it’s also just plain romantic…
As it turns out this film falls in the same category as Working Girl – I owe my mother another apology. Maybe her taste isn’t so bad after all. 😉
If you’re a Sorkin fan, this film is obviously a must see. But, I will say, if you’re not a Sorkin fan, this film might just make you one. What can I say? I’m an optimist.
Vintage trailer below: