I’m seeing American Dreamz tonight, the new film from Paul Weitz. It’s got some less-than-stellar buzz, but I’m hoping that even if the movie is bad, it’s bad in an interesting way. And the basic plot synopsis tells me that it could be:
On the morning of his re-election, the President (Dennis Quaid) decides to read the newspaper for the first time in four years. This starts him down a slippery slope. He begins reading obsessively, reexamining his black and white view of the world, holing up in his bedroom in his pajamas. Frightened by the President’s apparent nervous breakdown, his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) pushes him back into the spotlight, booking him as a guest judge on the television ratings juggernaut (and the President’s personal fave), the weekly talent show "American Dreamz".
America can’t seem to get enough of "American Dreamz," hosted by self-aggrandizing, self-loathing Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant), ever on the lookout for the next insta-celebrity. His latest crop of hopefuls includes Sally (Mandy Moore), a conniving steel magnolia with a devoted, dopey Iraq War veteran boyfriend (Chris Klein), and Omer, a recent Southern Californian immigrant (who just happens to be a bumbling, show tune singing, would-be terrorist awaiting activation). When both Sally and Omer make it to the final round of Dreamz-where the President will be judging along with Tweed-the stage is set for a show the nation will never forget.
That sounds like it could be a disaster of a film, and it also sounds like it could be the kind of controversial statement that might evoke a firestorm of debate across the blogosphere and on the news networks. Except that it probably won’t, no matter how good the film might be.
You see, the Right has stopped taking the bait. This past weekend V For Vendetta, a movie where the hero is a terrorist, opened without much complaint from the Right. This year’s Oscar films were a crop of issue movies that could have, in any other time, forced the bile from Bill O’Reilly’s stomach right out onto your TV screen, but for the most part the films sailed on with not much controversy (Good Night, and Good Luck took some hits from a few people on “factual” errors and O’Reilly tried to denigrate Brokeback Mountain by claiming it wasn’t doing well in theaters, a completely false statement in every possible way).
Michael Moore did change the world, it seems – his Fahrenheit 911 taught the Rightie pundits to shut the fuck up. They realized that there was no way that the movie would have made as much money as it did without their hysterical crying – they were Moore’s best PR people. Seeing Fahrenheit 911 became an obligation for anyone who opposed the President and his grotesque attacks on liberty and law (which, it turns out, were just getting started. What a shitty couple of years democracy has had), mostly because the talking heads on the Right got so pissed off about it.
I expected similar things for Kinsey, and so did the filmmakers. When the Right didn’t play along, the film slowly sank away. And in the years since, we’ve seen more and more politically charged films, all of which needed the opposition of the Right, and almost none of which actually got it. Syriana didn’t have coherence going for it – it needed blogger outrage. I know for a fact that Warner Bros marketing was counting on it, and when it never really materialized, the film slowly went away.
Part of this is the fact that the Right has wised up, but I think part of it is also fatalism. These people have long whined and complained about the Lefties in Hollywood (how can any group as powerful and as predominant as White Christian Males whine about being repressed? You have to sort of respect that kind of deep intellectual dishonesty. It’s like the Black Knight insisting he has a flesh wound. Except in reverse), but that was all a part of their plan. It was a way to marginalize the Left in general – associate them with these rich and “out of touch” movie stars, positioning the Right as regular folks and commonsensical, as opposed to greedy, racist and evil. Good trick.
But in the last few years the crying out against Hollywood has gotten shriller and less specific, and it’s because the Right knows it’s losing. It may not be obvious, but the signs are out there – major neo-con hawks are turning on the President en masse, approval ratings for Bush and the war are way, way down, and Cheney can’t even shoot people and get away with it anymore. The tide, as they say, is turning, and these movies aren’t the white foamy part of that wave, they’re the bit where you see that your attempt to do a little body surfing is about to get disastrous, and you start holding your breath.
So sorry, American Dreamz, but you’re probably going to not get a box office boost from protesters and raging media personalities. At this point I think you need to have Jesus taking it up the ass from an AIDS patient to get the Right riled up (studios, contact me for the full deetz on that particular idea. I have a whole scriptment). It’s too bad – I want to see more politically oriented movies, but if they stay soft we won’t be seeing any. And I also love the sturm und drang of the Right wing media overlords. I love seeing them act like petulant children, I love seeing them bully around well spoken Lefties, and I love seeing them get caught up in drug and sexual harassment scandals. But that’s not technically related to all this.