With President Andrew Shepherd’s first term coming to an end, his re-election seems all but assured. But his newfound relationship with an environmental lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade, opens the door for Shepherd’s critics and opponents to call into question his character, values, and ability to continue leading the nation.
An interesting combination of romantic comedy and political drama, The American President really thrives on the chemistry between Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. Aaron Sorkin’s script is exactly as you would imagine it to be. Fast-paced and full of sharp, witty dialogue, but Rob Reiner’s direction gives the movie some much needed softness and charm.
The movie was released in 1995 but the issues that Shepherd and Sydney are both dealing with are still, sadly, very relevant today. Sydney is trying to pass an important fuel bill to help climate change, and while Andrew is working on passing a crime bill that deals with gun control. The two have to learn to balance their personal relationship in the harsh eye of the media and political opponents while recognizing their professional differences as well.
Michael Douglas plays Shepherd with impressive confidence, except, of course, when he’s trying to handle personal matters on his own. Watching him try to send flowers to Sydney on his own rather than having his assistant take care of it for him provides one of many humorous moments that humanize the President. Annette Bening is as charming as ever and simply radiant on screen. She’s the full package, giggly and blushing when Shepherd calls to ask her to dinner but also sharp and intelligent, never hesitating to stand up for what she believes in, even if it means giving the POTUS a dressing down.
The supporting cast is phenomenal, most notably Michael J. Fox and Martin Sheen. You can see in Sheen’s performance why he was the perfect person for Sorkin to chose as President Bartlett in The West Wing. Richard Dreyfuss is the perfect foil to Douglas’s President. Smarmy and willing to resort to character assassination and innuendo if it means dinging Shepherd’s approval ratings. I’m sure he had plenty of real-life political inspiration to pull from.
The political plot adds plenty of drama and believable conflict between Shepherd and Sydney. It’s certainly clever enough that you very nearly forget that An American President is really a romantic comedy. It’s just one of the few that has actual depth. I really enjoyed watching this over the weekend. It really holds up, both in quality and in its message.