The American President

* * *

Charming but flawed leftist romantic comedy. Michael Douglas plays Bill Clinton...oops, Andrew Shepherd, a liberal Democrat, a widower, father of teenage daughter Chelsea...oops, Lucy (Shawna Waldron), and President of the United States. He meets a perky environmental lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening). When the two begin dating, he disregards the advice of Chief of Staff Martin Sheen, and trusted advisor George Stephanopoulos...oops, Lewis (Michael J. Fox), and refuses to respond to the character issues brought up by the press and Senate Republican and presidential candidate Bob Dole...oops, Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfus). As a result, his support in the polls begins to drop...and he may have to compromise his values to pass two important bills. However, Sydney reawakens Andrew's ultra-liberal side, and he begins to see politics from a whole new light. Obviously, this film presents a heavily romanticized view of the President, painting a liberal's idealized portrait of how Bill Clinton should have been (Andrew's wife died of cancer during his campaign, allowing him to sidestep the character issue, and killing two birds with one stone). However, as a romantic view of the Presidency, the film works. The film celebrates the regalia of the office, and the pomp and circumstance which surrounds it. It derives much of its humor in showing the President trying to do normal things in abnormal surroundings. Douglas' portrayal of Andrew Shepherd is squeaky clean...the perfect President. His relationship with Sydney works wonderfully in this fairy-tale level. Unfortunately, the film stoops down into the real world, and gets downright preachy in its two pet causes (reducing auto emissions and strict gun control). It even raises the ultra liberal measures of banning internal combustion engines and enforcing house-to-house searches to reclaim handguns, perhaps to make it's own leftist view seem more centrist. This good movie could have been a much more delightful film if it had strictly adhered to its fantasy, and been less concerned with pushing its agenda. (Castle Rock/Columbia)

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