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Since the recent American elections and their happy outcome, my lovely wife and I were drawn to celebrate the event through film. There have been many films over the years about the White House and its occupants, but we like best two films that appeared close together in the 1990s, in that strange Hollywood habit of producing two films about the same subject at the same time, whilst pretending that it was a complete coincidence.
A clever fantasy
Dave was a clever fantasy about an impossibly nice man with a remarkable resemblance to the current President, who is recruited as a lookalike to allow the great man to pursue some outside interests in privacy.
Kevin Kline acts both parts admirably, sometimes onscreen at the same time. When something happens to the genuine President things take a darker turn, with Dave being asked to continue the pretence whilst being driven deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that he appears powerless to influence or stop.
Leaves a good taste in the mouth
Dave is so convincing as the President that he even improves his popularity rating, but there is the tricky problem of the embittered and angry First Lady, played by Sigourney Weaver. How will he convince her? Frank Langella is the smarmiest Presidential aide you’ll ever hope not to meet, and Ving Rhaimes is the most stony-faced Secret Service bodyguard there ever was.
The whole film feels like one of those old-fashioned Hollywood films made by Frank Capra. Its plot skilfully weaves romance and political allegory and comedy and good guys against the system with a strong plea for honesty among politicians that’s mostly fallen on deaf ears.
It’s funny and clever and thought-provoking and leaves a very good taste in the mouth.
The President in Love
Our other presidential favourite is The American President, starring Michael Douglas as a widowed President who falls for Annette Bening as a feisty green lobbyist.
It mixes broad humour and tenderness as the couple try to keep their growing romance out of the public eye and he tries to protect her from the horrible glare of publicity that falls upon her. Not many lessons learned there either, I fear.
West Wing scriptwriter
There are wonderful scenes between the two leads, and Richard Dreyfus provides a sneering and nasty cameo as the opposition leader seeing his chance to challenge for office. As President, Michael Douglas is coming up for re-election, and has to make difficult choices that will affect his future and his happiness.
Fans of the West Wing will recognise the style of scriptwriter Aaron Sorkin in the crackling dialogue and inspiring speeches. And it’s funny.
A great double bill
Both these films are in love with the romance of the Presidency, and fall for its grandeur and elegance, both wishing that the people would live up to the hopes and expectations of the people rather than taking advantage of all the chances to grab and keep hold of power.
These two films offer two intriguing and entertaining takes on a great institution as well as two love stories, and make a great double bill, especially on a cold dark winter night.