American Dreamer

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

American Dreamer
dir Paul Dektor
scr Theodore Melfi
prd Theodore Melfi, Kim Quinn, Peter Dinklage, David Ginsberg, Toyo Shimano, Paul Dektor
with Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Kim Quinn, Danny Pudi, Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, Michelle Mylett, Peter Kelamis, Rebecca Olson, Garry Chalk, Kimberley Shoniker, Raresh DiMofte
release US 8.Mar.24
22/US 1h38

oudi dillon glover

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dinklage and maclaine
Based on a true story, this scrappy film takes a whimsical approach that's engaging but too loose to be satisfying. Performances are solid, giving characters their own hopes and motivations. So while the slapstick feels rather forced, the film connects as it plays with expectations. Writer Theodore Melfi and director Paul Dektor never quite settle on a tone, but the film offers an offbeat look at the American Dream.
University professor Phil (Dinklage) is cynical about everything, but hasn't given up hope of owning a house. Then he finds a deal: a small price for a huge mansion, as long as he lets the owner Astrid (MacLaine) remain there until she dies. But Astrid is more full of life than he expected, and Phil's estate agent (Dillon) can't get him out of the contract. As he tries to figure out what to do, Phil gets entangled with Astrid and her life. And his increasingly erratic behaviour gets him in trouble with his boss (Pudi).
Punctuating the narrative are chapters of a novel Phil is writing that's loosely based on the meandering craziness of his life. Phil is also adrift romantically, moving from a grad student (Mylett) to Astrid's "daughter" Maggie (Quinn), then wondering if maybe he has feelings for Astrid herself. Actually, he has no idea what he wants, and often returns to an imaginary wife/girlfriend (Olson). All of these things, and more, swirl through the film, never quite joining together into something properly meaningful. Still, there's fun to have along the way.

Dinklage adeptly adds nuance to every scene, playing up Phil's hapless approach to finding happiness while grounding the role in his deeper yearnings. His connections with the various women in the story are underdeveloped, but MacLaine's dazzling energy makes Astrid a force to reckon with, stealing each of her scenes. Fellow veterans like Glover (as a private eye) and Dillon (in likeably smarmy mode) add some energetic spark along the way.

This is a film that works best in its smaller scenes, but disappoints in the way the narrative unfolds. Several of the wacky plot threads get lost along the way, never quite resolving in ways that feel very meaningful. So Phil's central search for direction in his life, which is the topic of his lectures, fails to resonate or to reveal something meaningful in the end. In other words, the movie is definitely watchable, elevated by its exceptional cast, but it's ultimately rather forgettable.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 7.Mar.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall