"The American President" is basically writer Aaron Sorkin and director Rob Reiner giving us a modern Frank Capra movie, a feel good romantic tale with a moral message about doing the right thing. And if that wasn't enough they also mention Frank Capra in the movie, Richard Dreyfuss plays an evil Senator in a typical Capra-esque style and just for good measure Frank Capra III, the grandson of Frank Capra, was first assistant director. All of which for me makes for a very entertaining, feel good romantic comedy set against a political back drop, it's easy to watch, very amusing as well as very sweet. But of course that isn't everyone's cup of tea and those who are looking for a biting satire of politics will be sorely disappointed as it doesn't venture down that route, just serving us simple and mostly homely humour.
As his first term as President of the United States comes closer widower Andrew Shepherd's (Michael Douglas - Disclosure) team are gearing up ready for the campaign trail which they feel confident about considering Shepherd's popularity. But that all changes when Andrew becomes smitten with environmental activist Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening - The Great Outdoors) and starts dating her, not an easy thing when you're the President. Not only do his team threat as to whether it is the right thing for the President to be dating but his rival Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss - Always) sees it at as the perfect opportunity to launch a personal attack on Shepherd.
Some of the best movies I have watched have a simple storyline and "The American President" is no different because whilst we have the setting of the Whitehouse and the President and his team concerning themselves with the polls as the campaign trail beckons it doesn't try to over complicate things with the ins and outs of politics. Instead we have this pleasant tale of widower President Andrew Shepherd falling for environmental activist Sydney Ellen Wade and all the complications which ensue. Those complications range from the amusing mishaps such as Sydney ending up accidentally insulting Andrew as well as his attempts to do things the old fashioned way like ordering flowers himself, not that simple when you are the President, through to his political team fearing that this relationship will threaten his popularity. And of course we have complications as Presidential rival Senator Bob Rumson tries to use this relationship against him as he campaigns.
But that is as deep as it really goes because "The American president" is nothing more than just a fun romantic comedy built on the issues that the president Pas trying to date someone. Okay I am lying because alongside this fun romance you do have a moral aspect as running the country and securing enough votes causes issues between Andrew and Sydney and so we get the less than surprising moment when Andrew has to do the right thing for him and Sydney rather than just the country. As I said to start with, it is very Capra-esque in so many ways with its fun little romantic comedy and wholesome message about doing the right thing. But that does mean that for those who were hoping for some biting political satire will be left wanting as it never comes close to being biting.
A big reason why "The American President" does end up being entertaining is down to the wonderful cast and not just the main casting of Michael Douglas as Andrew Shepherd and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade. Martin Sheen is great as the President's long term friend A.J. MacInerney whilst Michael J. Fox is full of energy as Lewis Rothschild plus Richard Dreyfuss gives us a very Capra-esque villain in Senator Bob Rumson especially when you see him with his team in a cigar smoke filled room. But Michael Douglas and Annette Bening are the main cast and both do brilliant jobs especially Douglas who sells the aspect of the President trying to act like a normal person but finding such things as ordering flowers is not easy when you are the world's most powerful man. And Bening makes Sydney both feisty, funny and someone who in a very cliche way looks like they are in love and that is not a criticism because it works, the sparkle in her eye and moments of nervous clumsiness makes her lovable and beauty.
What this all boils down to is that "The American President" is a nice attempt to deliver a modern romantic comedy in a Frank Capra style. It has all those elements which made Capra's movies charming from a bad guy politician to a moment of doing the right thing as well as a charming romance with plenty of fun moments. But it will be disappointing for anyone who expects something more biting from a comedy set in the Whitehouse.