American Dreamer Image

American Dreamer

By Sumner Forbes | May 8, 2024

Is the American Dream dead? One’s mileage will differ if one is pressed to answer, but from the viewpoint of depressed economics professor Dr. Phil Loder (Peter Dinklage), the answer to the question is a resounding yes. Director Paul Dektor’s American Dreamer is just the latest movie proposing to expose the inequities of the current system. At some point, though, preaching to the choir can only go so far without a novel angle with which to approach the issue. While there’s plenty to appreciate in the film (especially in terms of casting), we’re ultimately left grasping for a more poignant meditation on an issue on the minds of so many Americans.

Dr. Loder is an adjunct professor at a prestigious Boston university. For an economics expert, his finances are in shambles, as made evident by his 1980s-era Saab and his dinky apartment. After lectures, he often spends evenings at the bar drinking with his wealthy, anti-intellectual friend Dell (Matt Dillon), one of the city’s premier realtors. Unable to afford the area’s exorbitant housing prices, Loder gives up hope until he finds an impossible ad in the classified section of the newspaper.

“…finds an impossible ad in the classified section…”

A house worth over $4 million can be his for around $200,000 if he accepts a live-in guest. Said live-in is Astrid (Shirley MacLaine), an old widow unwilling to die anywhere else than in her ancestral home. It’s a deal that’s obviously too good to be true. Still, he liquidates nearly everything he has and takes the plunge to purchase the home, propelling the film’s narrative into a battle of inheritance and redemption.

The notable casting in American Dreamer actually works against the film in the sense that with such a star-studded cast, the expectations are too great for the film to overcome. Dinklage has been an A-lister ever since Game of Thrones. Still, his natural gift at delivering visceral quips is wasted on a script that instead relies on a preponderance of physical comedy in lieu of sharp writing. MacLaine, one of the biggest stars of yesteryear, is also begging for something more to do than being the standard old spinster. Even the coup of getting Danny Glover to sign on is wasted on a secondary character that could have easily been excised from the film entirely.

Still, there may be a catharsis for many in watching a movie so attuned to the acute issue of affordable housing in much of North America. I’m sure that cursory glances at listings on Zillow drive many to drink (much like it does for Loder), and seeing slimy realtors like Dell effortlessly become wealthier because of the sky-high prices is a source of much ire to many Americans. Those who may not care quite as much about the economic messaging underpinning the film may still find Dinklage careening through windows and getting seduced by hot graduate students worthy of the time investment. Still, there’s no denying that this could have been so much more.

American Dreamer (2022)

Directed: Paul Dektor

Written: Theodore Melfi, Christopher Wehner

Starring: Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, etc.

Movie score: 6/10

American Dreamer Image

"…battle of inheritance and redemption..."

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