With a bit more breezy charm and a little less office politics, this wonderfully warm and surprisingly enchanting romantic comedy resembles at first glance The West Wing, the current White House drama series on NBC. Rob Reiner directs this handsome movie with a light touch, yet the movie looks beautiful. Respectful of the highest office in the world, the movie playfully gets inside, but never pulls the rug out from under its comedic tone, which is key to its success. Annette Bening has never been more appealing; her comedic skills nearly overshadow her scene-stealing emotional moments, and Michael Douglas has the bigness in presence, charm and sheer physical prowess that make his president entirely believable. The big fanfare of the gorgeous musical score provides a patriotic undertone to this entirely American story; like the best sexually charged comedies from the 1940s (Hepburn/Tracy, etc.), this movie has a big heart, and wins your completely. -- By R. Penola
What sounds like the high-concept romantic comedy pitch from hell--widower president falls for smart lobbyist while the world watches--is actually intelligent, charming, touching, and quite funny. Granted, it's wish fulfillment all the way (when was the last time you saw a president who was truly presidential?), but in the capable hands of writer Aaron Sorkin (TV's Sports Night) and director Rob Reiner, The American President is incredibly enjoyable entertainment with quite a few ideas about both romance and the government. Michael Douglas stars as the president, who after three years in office starts thinking about the possibility of dating.
When he auspiciously encounters cutthroat environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), sparks begin to crackle and the two begin a tentative but heartfelt romance. Of course, his job gets in the way--their first kiss is interrupted by a Libyan bombing--but darn it if these two kids aren't going to try and make it work! However, they hadn't counted on the president's Republican antagonist (Richard Dreyfuss), who starts carping about family values. The predictable plot--Douglas finally goes to bat for his lady and his country--is leavened by Sorkin's wonderful, snappy dialogue and a light touch from the usually subtle-as-a-sledgehammer Reiner. Both manage to create a believable White House-office atmosphere (with a crack staff including Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deavere Smith, and Samantha Mathis) as well as a plausible and funny dating scenario.
The true success of the movie, though, rides squarely on Douglas and Bening; this is unequivocally Douglas's best comedic performance (ergo his best performance, period) and Bening, usually such a good bad girl, takes a standard career-woman role and fleshes it out magnificently. You can see in an instant why Douglas would fall for her. One of the best unsung romantic comedies of the '90s. --Mark Englehart
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