Making the Grades
When does satire cross the fine line dividing dark humor from mean spirited? Are we ready to laugh at gags involving terrorists and suicide bombers? Does the idea of a nearing-fifty Hugh Grant having sex with a barely adult Mandy Moore give you a moment's pause?
These questions and more will be on your mind after viewing American Dreamz, another film in what may be a new genre called Equally Offensive. Arabs, Jews, Caucasian southerners (referred to as "white trash"), Iraqi soldiers, and amateur musicians are only a few of the population segments lampooned in this movie, which many are describing as a too-long Saturday Night Live script.
Exploring topical events that will date this film faster than you can say "cold popcorn," Hugh Grant plays Martin Tweed, the host of an amateur performance show called American Dreamz--a solid knockoff of the blisteringly popular American Idol and its infamous celebrity judge, Simon Cowell. Overflowing with dour determination, Tweed tosses girlfriends and associates aside like empty soda cans as he claws his way to even greater ratings domination. Knowing he can't stay on top if he continues producing the same show year after year, he begins searching for a new selection of contestants who will redefine the term "divergent demographic."
His aching for atypical personalities will tie in the movie's other major storylines...
Sally Kendoo (Mandy Moore) is your a average southern karaoke lover, but when Tweed gets word of her injured boyfriend returning home from Iraq, he knows he has an angle that will make up for Sally's mediocre singing. And speaking of Iraq, why not bring an Arab into the works? After seeing footage of a new immigrant (Sam Golzari), the Dreamz boss puts Omar into the mix, not knowing the wannabe entertainer is a terrorist waiting to be activated. Finally, there is the lame duck US president (Dennis Quaid) who is following in his father's footsteps. (Yes, this movie is anything but subtle.) Hoping to give his image a kick in the pants, the country's VP (Willem Dafoe) gets the prez a gig as a guest judge on the show.
As messy as all of these plot threads sound, there are some good (albeit perhaps guilt-ridden) laughs within this production, thanks to its solid performances. Yet, at times the humor turns sour, and unless you are ready to chuckle at a guy who is fighting an internal battle between realizing fame and fortune in the USA or blowing up himself and The Chief on live television, this won't be your idea of a fun time.
Perhaps the most positive element for parents and teens considering the suitability of this title will be the topical conversations it's bound to ignite. Aside from the usual sexual expletive and a few milder profanities, the language is relatively tame. There is no sexuality shown, although there's some innuendo and the previously mentioned instance when intimate relations are heavily implied. Violence is limited to the terrorist character, scenes in a terrorist training camp where men are shooting guns at targets, and an off-screen explosion.
Instead, the film's satirical and cynical attitudes will be of greatest concern to families. Political leaders are mocked, yet so is the media for profit mongering by showcasing extreme behavior and tragic events.
Without an ounce of delicacy, the divergent storylines come together like a slow-motion multiple-vehicle crash. After the dust has settled, and the casualties and injuries are counted, witnesses may be left thinking it might have been safer to stay clear of this intersection.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about American Dreamz.
How can satire help us to better understand complex situations? Does it promote thinking of problems and ideas from a new perspective? Is satire capable of causing hurt or harm? How might the use of stereotypes influence our opinions about other people? What do you think is accomplished by the humor in this film?