Up until Election Day on November 4th, we'll be taking a look at one movie every day that involves an election, which gives us seven great political movies to discuss. With 6 days to go, let's start with movie #2!
The American President (1995)
Before he redefined political fiction and swept the Emmys year after year with The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin warmed up by writing a romantic comedy set in the White House. Michael Douglas plays President Andrew Shepherd, a widower and single father who falls for an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening. Rob Reiner directed the film, right after directing Sorkin’s first screenplay, A Few Good Men (let’s all just forget that North fiasco).
The relationship follows the usual romantic comedy machinations, but they’re all put into motion by political developments rather than the usual trivial dilemma that make or break relationships in these movies. The big inevitable break up before the climactic rekindling is not over another man/woman, or a comic misunderstanding, or Boy not appreciating Girl... It’s about Boy’s gun control bill taking priority over Girl’s environmental bill. The film is like a rough draft for The West Wing, with many of the plot lines revisited in the show’s first season. The humor is the typical Sorkin snappy banter, with moments both hilarious and endearing. It has one of the cutest “cute meet” scenes, an important scene in any romantic comedy: Bening’s Sydney Ellen Wade is in a meeting in the White House and while she’s delivering a monologue listing the President’s faults in his position on environmental issues, he walks into the room behind her and quips, “Let’s take him out back and beat the shit out of him!” Who doesn’t want a President with that kind of sense of humor?
Resonance: The big strain in the couple’s love affair is an upcoming reelection for President Shepherd, in which his Republican opponent Bob Rumson (a dead ringer for Dick Cheney, who Richard Dreyfuss eventually played in W.) attacks his “family values” for actively dating someone. Sorkin’s West Wing in its heyday was criticized for its optimistic ideals—his politicians are always doing the right thing instead of what’s working for their benefit—and you can see the seeds here, when President Shepherd chooses to push through a bill he believes in rather than a half-assed bill that would get him votes.
Unforgettable Scene: At the end of the movie, President Shepherd has a change of heart and unexpectedly walks into the White House Press Room. Throughout the film, he has refused to respond to Republican attacks out of principle, and here he finally gets angry and goes into a blistering speech that defends his woman and reposition his political stance at the same time.
Remember: after you're done watching movies, don't forget to vote!