Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Satire with a Z

I have a limited interest in American Idol. I don't enjoy the train wreck of early contestants, and start paying attention once the field is down to about 8 singers. By then, we see them struggle with theme weeks, iconic guests, and cruel voting realities. Favorite performer picks the wrong song? Say goodbye.

I've decided to address the show in a future post. It's on my mind now, having seen a sneak preview of American Dreamz Monday night. It's a satire, ostensibly about America's low approval of the Bush administration and high approval of a glorified talent show.

There's comedy gold to be mined from a re-elected President (Dennis Quaid) who realizes he has no identity because he's been fed opinions by his handlers (including a Cheney-esque Willem Dafoe). His resulting depression prompts a publicity blitz, leading up to a guest appearance in the finale of a red-hot pop idol show.

Meanwhile, a self-loathing version of Simon Cowell (Hugh Grant) rigs his show so that the boring contestants get weeded out. One finalist is a sweetheart type (Mandy Moore) that's as manipulative as he is. The film proceeds in an unusual direction, sacrificing political commentary to accentuate the dark side of stardom.

Of all the literary genres, satire is the trickiest. I took a class on it, and even Jonathan Swift missed a few targets. Historically, critics give movie satires the benefit of the doubt because the filmmakers tried to make some statement. I suspect they'll do the same here.

American Dreamz isn't bad, but I wished it were better.


Janelle Renee said...

I find that usually the biggest mistake film makers make is underestimating the audience. They can't/don't want to trust that the audience will follow along, see their movie as a satire. Their solution is to dumb-down (really annoying) or to repeat scenes--flashbacks, replay of strong visuals, loud references to current events, etc. I'm curious to see how this movie stacks up. (At least Dennis Quaid is in it for the eye-candy factor alone.)

Neel Mehta said...

I don't think the film was dumbed down necessarily. There are a few plot elements I left out that create some genuine tension about how the story is going to be resolved. But you start to expect that the big statements are going to be more anti-Hollywood than anti-Washington.

I didn't mention it earlier, but Chris Klein is in this, playing a symbolic pre-fame boyfriend to Mandy Moore's character rather than a real love interest. Having just written about the latest TomKat news, I'm wondering if he drew upon his own experience as Katie's ex.