Usually when filmmakers set out with an idea for a project, they hope that it won't flop and die on the cutting room floor. In an interview with The Beacon, director/writer Paul Weitz said of his newest film, American Dreamz, that he "didn't expect it to be made."
Weitz had an idea to make a "weird movie." He spoke of the fact that as an American, he was "not changing viewing, or any, habits because we're at war." He said he began to recognize the fact that as the poster for the film put it, "more people vote for a pop idol than their next president."
The film begins by showing Sally Kendoo (played well by Mandy Moore), a budding young singer chosen to appear as a contestant on the TV sensation American Dreamz. She seems innocent, but is soon revealed to be egomaniacal. As she starts heading for the top, she gets rid of her boyfriend and anything else from her old life, unless it will help her win.
Next comes the Ryan Seacrest/Simon Cowell love child that is Hugh Grant's character, Martin Tweed. But wait, we're not nearly done yet. Then there is Omer (played well by newcomer Sam Golzari), a young man training in the Middle East to become a terrorist; the only catch: he was brought up to love American showtunes.
Dennis Quaid appears as an all-too-familiar president, and last, but certainly not least, is Willem Dafoe as the vice president who always finds a way to control and manipulate the president. These are just the beginning of the list of memorable characters in American Dreamz.
Getting together this incredible cast was no easy feat for Weitz, as the budget he was given was a mere $19 million dollars, as Weitz put it, "the entire movie cost less then Russell Crowe's salary for Cinderella Man."
So he made appeals to those he had worked with before and called on professional contacts, getting people to cut their regular fees to appear in the film.
But it wasn't just Weitz calling in favors. Some people simply wanted in on the project.
Quaid recalls that "[Weitz] wanted me to play the president and I just said, 'Yes' without even reading the script."
Weitz also recalled a similar experience with Willem Dafoe. All he needed to convince Dafoe to take the part was to send him a computer mock-up of him as the Cheney-esque character.
The film's storyline is incredibly creative as the audience follows four very separate plotlines to the same end. Between scenes showing Sally's willingness to do whatever it takes to win, Omer moves from terrorist boot camp back with his family in Los Angeles to wait for contact from a sleeper cell.
The audience also gets to see the underside of American reality TV with producer Martin Tweed as he schemes ways to make the show more popular.
President Staton eventually discovers the concept of reading newspapers and books, finding to his shock, that he doesn't know a lot about the world-all the while, he's being told directly through an earpiece what to say by Vice President Sutter.
Sutter takes over Staton's life so completely that the president even remarks to his wife, who also looks suspiciously familiar, that he "feels like a placebo."
It is inevitable that this film is destined to become something that viewers attempt to take very politically, but Weitz doesn't want this to be seen as a political comedy. He claims it is simply a cultural comedy and the political elements are completely secondary.
Weitz said he was not worried that people would think of his film as politically incorrect.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is a satire. It is not meant to be truthful, and it is poking fun at the stereotypes.
While there are Arab terrorists in the film, there is also a family of Arabs who are no different from the stereotypical Los Angeles spoiled rich family.
Even members of the sleeper cell have taken some fancy to American culture and seem to promote the idea that, as Weitz put it, "if they only knew us, they wouldn't want to kill us."
So sit back and enjoy the rapping Jew, the showtune-loving Arab and the loveable but clueless president. And don't overanalyze everything.