moviebuff801: Time Capsule Reviews: The American President (1995)

Posted: August 27, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: November 17th, 1995

Running Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes

Written by: Aaron Sorkin

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Starring: Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox

The American President is a flat-out wonderful movie, the kind of entertainment that fixes an almost permanent smile on your face as you watch it, due to the way it skillfully navigates itself through a wealth of refreshingly human characters and gives us a love story to really root for.  Despite the fact that it was released back in 1995, the film still provides a much-needed resuscitation, if only for 115 minutes, to a genre that continually flatlines: the romantic comedy.

The American president of the title is Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), a highly popular Commander in Chief who’s also a widower with a teenage daughter.  Things begin to change, however, when he meets Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), an expert environmental lobbyist hired by the GDC to convince the President to pass legislation that would substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  President Shepherd’s first meeting with Sydney isn’t quite what neither of them expected, thus creating a mutual interest in each other, and before either of them knows it, President Shepherd is courting Sydney publicly.  The only problem with this is the timing: this courtship comes right as President Shepherd and his staff are trying to pass a crime control bill that they believe will guarantee Shepherd re-election if passed.  Not only that, but Shepherd dating Sydney gives Shepherd’s opponent in the election, Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) enough material with which to attack him, much to the chagrin of Chief of Staff A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) and Assistant for Domestic Policy Lewis Rothschild (Michael J. Fox).

With all the strengths The American President has to offer, let’s be serious, none of them would have been as strong as they are if it wasn’t for the immaculate screenplay by Aaron Sorkin.  It’s no secret that Sorkin is one of the absolute best screenwriters in the business today, and The American President only solidifies that opinion.  In fact, the screenplay for this film has to be one of my favorite screenplays, ever.  Very few writers have as deft an ear for dialogue as Sorkin does.  Whenever these characters talk, and especially when they get involved in back-and-forths with each other, it’s almost like music to your ears.  Whenever you hear Sorkin-scripted dialogue, you forget that you’re watching a movie.  This dialogue is so good, I almost dare you to say this isn’t great stuff by the ten-minute mark.  Sorkin incorporates a nearly perfect sense of wit and sarcasm into this script, with many great laugh-out-loud lines, and if the performances by all the actors involved had been subpar, this delicate card tower of a movie could have all come tumbling down, but fortunately it doesn’t, because everyone else here is completely devoted to making something special.  And now, 17 years later, I can safely say that they most certainly did, because The American President is head and shoulders above every romantic comedy that’s churned out these days.  Actually, I think it’s more like many heads and shoulders above them.

You need another reason why The American President dominates the genre?  Well, there’s the simple fact that, for once, this is a romantic comedy that’s actually about likable people.  Too often these days do we get romantic comedies where the two leads are detestable human beings with either flimsy or selfish motives (case in point: The Bounty Hunter, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days), so what a Godsend the pairing of Michael Douglas and Annette Bening is.  Each character has real human qualities that add depth and persona to them, helping them rise above tired caricatures.  Douglas plays President Shepherd with an almost boyish enthusiasm, especially in the scenes when he’s trying to win over Sydney, which only adds to his endearing nature.  The rest of the time, Douglas brings a sense of genuinely wanting to provide the best for everyone, and it’s hard not to appreciate that from him, especially considering that he’s playing a U.S. president.  By comparison, Sydney has an undercurrent of infectious charm that makes it easy to see why any guy would be interested in her.  When the two of them share scenes together, which is quite often in this movie, it’s like a thing of beauty.  It’s not often anymore that you see an on-screen couple that you so desperately want to see together.  No matter how great your written dialogue may be, you still need talented actors to really bring it all to life, and Douglas and Bening, along with the rest of the stellar cast, give Sorkin’s dialogue the love and respect it deserves.

Of course, someone else in this movie’s crew who’s showing a great deal of respect for the material is director Rob Reiner.  As much as I’ve been praising the other aspects of The American President, I don’t want to shortchange Reiner here, because he brings a lot to the film as well.  The overall tone that Reiner brings to this, I feel, can best be described as Capra-esque (Is that a sly nod to one of the scenes in this movie? Yes and no).  I say Capra-esque because for a lot of the running time, everything has this optimistic quality to it.  And that kind of thing is refreshing in the midst of so many darkly-themed movies.  I should also mention that Marc Shaiman’s score for the movie, especially the main theme, is great.  In fact, I can think of nobody involved in this whole production who doesn’t their job their all.  What a rare thing.

Actually, The American President is a rare movie.  Not only do we rarely see romantic movies as expertly crafted as this one, but neither do we see movies as superb as this very often, period.  As you can undoubtedly tell by now, there’s good reason why I count this amongst my 20 All-Time Favorite Films.


P.S. As a further testament to my love for this film, as part of my 10th grade Theatre class, I memorized and performed Michael Douglas’s brilliant speech from the climax.

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Love this film! The combination of Aaron Sorkin words and Rob Reiner’s direction hit it out of the park (like it did with ‘A Few Good Men’) with this film. It still baffles me why, oh why, they couldn’t have continued to churn out more collaborations. They really brought out the best in each other. Wonderful review to a stellar film — one that’s great as a political film and as a romantic comedy. Well done.

  2. vinnieh says:

    Great post, this is going on my list of movies I need to watch.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. This film is definitely not my favorite Aaron Sorkin-written script, but at least it has likable leads and an inspired direction from Reiner that has us actually believe in these two falling in love and conquering all odds.

  4. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks! Yeah, definitely seek this one out – you won’t be disappointed. :)

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