In the weeks before the release of my political romance Special Interests, I want to use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. Today, I consider The American President.
Rob Reiner’s 1995 romantic comedy The American President is one of my all-time favorite movies. And when you read Special Interests (because you’re going to read it, right?), this devotion will show. It is very clearly writer Aaron Sorkin’s warm-up for his television series, The West Wing, but in some ways, the film works better. The extent to which The American President colored my vision of how the American government works, my interest in the political process, and my decision to move to Washington right after college can’t be overstated. And it is more than surpassing embarrassing. I made a very serious life decision because, in part, I liked a movie.
The only point in my favor is that the movie in question does hold up.
Given its popularity on cable TV, I think the odds are good that you’ve seen it, but if not: the widowed Democratic president (Michael Douglas) meets and then pursues a feisty environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening), much to the horror of his staff (including Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen, and Anna Deavere Smith) and the glee of his Republican opponent (Richard Dreyfuss).
The romance in the film plays out against the backdrop of an election in which two of the major issues are a proposed ban on assault weapons and a limit on carbon emissions (for those playing along at home, there’s been no movement on either of those issues since the mid-90s and arguably regression; but let’s not get distracted).
It’s a face paced, smart, and ultimately very funny film that wears it’s idealistic heart on its sleeve. It’s less smarmy than The West Wing, which could be terrific but also condescending and proscriptive. It has that high gloss of mainstream 90s movies, but also intelligence and soul.
As I’ve written about before, The American President uses overt, electoral politics as a metaphor for implicit, private politics. Most of us won’t ever date a president or even a politician, but many women will navigate relationships with men who have more money, higher status jobs, and myriad responsibilities. We might come to The American President for the novelty factor–the what if?–but we stay because the journey feels honest if not realistic.
Regardless, you have to love a film in which the first thing the hero hears the heroine saying is that he’s delusional and which ends at the State of the Union. Tonight, for me, it’s The American President.