Review: ‘The American President’

A romantic comedy about the dating problems of the world's most powerful man, The American President is genial middlebrow fare that coasts a long way on the charm of its two stars.

A romantic comedy about the dating problems of the world’s most powerful man, The American President is genial middlebrow fare that coasts a long way on the charm of its two stars.

Michael Douglas plays the embodiment of every liberal’s dream – an attractive, dashing, sensitive, humane and smart president of the United States. A widower with a young daughter, he has his attention diverted to his personal life when he meets crack lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), hired to make sure an environmental bill retains its teeth.

It takes Ellen a while to come to grips with the nature of the president’s interest in her, and some of Bening’s best comic moments are in her embarrassed but flattered reactions to his admiring advances.

Republican meanie and presidential hopeful Sen. Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) brands Ellen ‘the First Mistress’ and helps drag the Shepherd’s approval rating down to precarious levels. This, in turn, weakens the president’s hand on Capitol Hill, placing his legislation, and his status with Ellen, in jeopardy.

Working with Reiner again after their successful teaming on A Few Good Men, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin has cooked up some reasonably engaging banter for his two bright, quick-witted, hard-driving leading characters without letting it get too artificial. Douglas and Bening are more than up to the challenge, delivering winning turns as A-plus personality types.

Supporting roles have been adroitly filled, with Martin Sheen as the prez’s chief of staff and long-time best friend, and Anna Deavere Smith, Samantha Mathis and David Paymer as other staffers. Production designer Lilly Kilvert brings the White House to life with lavish, full-scale sets.

Pic was originally developed as The President Elopes with Robert Redford long set to star, which accounts for the production involvement of Wildwood and Universal.

Nominations: Original Musical or Comedy Score

The American President


Wildwood/Castle Rock/Universal. Director Rob Reiner; Producer Rob Reiner; Writer Aaron Sorkin; Camera John Seale Editor Robert Leighton; Music Marc Shaiman Art Lilly Kilvert


(Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1995. Running time: 113 MIN.


Michael Douglas Annette Bening Martin Sheen Michael J. Fox David Paymer Richard Dreyfuss
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