Monday, April 15, 2024

“AMERICAN DREAMER”

THE STORY – A low-level professor of economics finds his dream of owning a home unreachable until a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes his way. A lonely widow offers up her sprawling estate for pennies, but he soon learns the deal is too good to be true.

THE CAST – Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, Kimberly Quinn, Danny Pudi & Michelle Mylett

THE TEAM – Paul Dektor (Director) & Theodore Melfi (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes


The American Dream seems more fuzzy nowadays than at any other time in recent history. Owning a white picket fence with a big yard and spacious home is still possible, but only if you have hundreds of thousands of dollars available for a down payment. For most of us, the only way we can afford one of those dream homes is in the fantasies we create in our mind as we scroll endlessly through Zillow listings, wondering how a two-bedroom, one-bath home could cost nearly $1 million despite having the worst curb appeal.

Director Paul Dektor understands the housing crisis at hand, especially among us millennials, as he explores a down-on-his-luck professor whose dreams of home ownership seem too out of reach in “American Dreamer.” His dark comedy hits too close to home as plenty of viewers will relate to the protagonist’s plight, but the film fails to truly come alive due to a script full of strange tonal shifts and lackluster writing.

Phil Loder (Peter Dinklage) is a twice-divorced, frustrated, underpaid professor of economics whose classes are as riveting as him. One would think being a professor would be a lucrative job, but this one gets him less than $50,000, a crappy apartment, and disappointing vending machine sandwiches for lunch. Much like the rest of society, Phil dreams of having a beautiful home all to himself, but his Zillow searches show that most homes in his area cost millions. His real estate broker friend Dell (Matt Dillon), who shows lavish homes totally out of his budget, doesn’t help either, but Phil takes great pride in scaring off potential buyers at open houses.

Dinklage is the perfect casting for Phil. With his rugged beard and tired eyes, we can totally feel just how “over it” he is with everything in his life and how much he needs a win. One area that he doesn’t have much trouble in is seducing women, as he impresses a 30-year-old graduate student (Michelle Mylett).

One day, a classified ad in the newspaper catches his eye: a beautiful waterfront property (oozing interior design porn that doesn’t get shown enough in this film) could be his for $5 million, or $240,00, with a live-in. That live-in is Astrid Finnelli (Shirley MacLaine), a widow with no children who looks like she might not make it that much longer. It seems like an ideal situation for Phil, so he decides to sell everything he has and cash in his savings. Unfortunately, he soon discovers that Astrid has no plans of slowing down any time soon, and when children start showing up, the situation gets even more messy.

Much like how Dinklage is great in his role, MacLaine plays another great firecracker character who is such a joy to watch. The initial meeting between Astrid and Phil is rocky as she looks him up and down and sees that he’s a huge mess. But they later form a sweet relationship that eventually turns into love as Phil ends up saving her life on multiple occasions, even though her death would leave him the house.

Unfortunately, there’s too much going on in this film, and not all of it is well-written, which takes away from the positives that Dinklage and MacLaine bring. When Astrid’s daughter Maggie (Kimberly Quinn), an attorney, shows up, she clarifies to Phil that he won’t be walking away with the house any time soon. The tension between them works, but then he manages also to seduce her. Then, to top it off, Maggie becomes so cold to Phil after Astrid has an accident that the whole situation leaves you scratching your head as you try to figure out what just happened. Similarly, his relationship with his graduate student turns sour when he doesn’t give her any attention, and she reports him to his department head (Danny Pudi), whom she then subsequently begins seeing. These tonal shifts happen so quickly and randomly that it’s hard to keep track of who is in whose good graces and why they’re even mad at each other in the first place. Not to mention, these women are basically reduced to two-dimensional characters whose entire purpose is to fall for Phil, which is quite disappointing to see continue in films in 2024. Why Phil is such a womanizer is a question in itself as well. We’ve seen Dinklage bring the charm, like in “Cyrano,” but Phil is nowhere near as lovable or as sensitive.

Additionally, another subplot involving a private detective (played by the always-lovely Danny Glover) seems like an afterthought for much of the film. Phil keeps imagining two dreamy women who fawn over him and encourage him to seek mental health help. Not only is it another random addition to the film, but it’s another example of lame female characters.

While “American Dreamer” covers a very timely topic, it doesn’t entirely stick the landing in the end due to its rocky script. But the film can thank its stars, Dinklage and MacLaine, for elevating certain moments and being a joy to watch time and time again.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Peter Dinklage and Shirley MacLaine are perfectly cast in their roles, elevating their characters and lighting up the screen together

THE BAD - The script packs in too much, not all of it is written well, and many of the female characters are disappointing. Not enough of the waterfront home’s beautiful interior design is shown off.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Peter Dinklage and Shirley MacLaine are perfectly cast in their roles, elevating their characters and lighting up the screen together<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The script packs in too much, not all of it is written well, and many of the female characters are disappointing. Not enough of the waterfront home’s beautiful interior design is shown off.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"AMERICAN DREAMER"