‘American Dreamer’ Review: Peter Dinklage and Shirley MacLaine Make an Appealing Odd Couple
Peter Dinklage . is one of the most effective actors at conveying misanthropy. The actor is a master at portraying vulnerable, damaged souls with his expressive face and sharp lines. This is what makes him perfect for the role of the star in the new film scripted Theodore Melfi ), in which he plays a struggling economic professor who is desperately trying to find happiness but fails miserably at every turn. American Dreamer, recently showcased as the opening night film of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, is the sort of acerbic black comedy that feels like a throwback to the more cinematically daring 1970s era.
Dinklage portrays Philip Loder, an economist at a New England university. His lectures are mainly filled with angry screeds about inequality. Philip relates to the subject personally, since he only earns $50,000 a year and doesn’t have the tenure that would ensure job security. He spends his spare time writing a novel, but dreams about the fancy real estate he can’t afford. Open house showings of luxury homes are hosted by his friend Dell, a humorous Matt Dillon ), who tolerates Philip’s presence despite the fact that he enjoys scaring away potential buyers.
Philip is also a fantasy man who lives a lavish life that includes the love and attention of two beautiful young women. He thinks that his dream to own a luxurious home may come true when he discovers a deal that seems too good be true. It involves a palatial waterfront mansion being sold for “$5 million as is, or $240,00 with live-in.” It’s owned by the elderly, childless widow Astrid Finnelli (Shirley MacLaine), who will sell at the lower price under the condition that she’s allowed to remain in the house for the rest of her life.
Assuring him that he shouldn’t wait too long to get sole possession of Astrid’s property, Dell tells Philip to cash in all his savings. He then sells all of his possessions and moves into the house’s old servants’ quarters. To his dismay, he soon discovers Astrid is not at death’s doorstep, but a senior, calm, and in good health. She also has several adult children, including Maggie (Kimberly Quinn), who is an attorney who insists that she will not let Philip get away with the deal.
The film, loosely based on a true-life segment of the radio show This American Life, has a distinct Harold and Maude black-comedy vibe in its depiction of the relationship between Astrid and Philip. It starts out cold, but it soon turns into a warm friendship and even love.
Meanwhile, Philip, who seems to be irresistible to women, finds himself repeatedly falling into bed — first with a 30-year-old graduate student (Michelle Mylett) in a casual relationship that threatens to destroy his career after she informs Philip’s department head (Danny Pudi, Community), and then with Maggie despite their previous animosity.
Paul Dektor, a new director, struggles to navigate the story’s abrupt tone shifts and inconsistencies. Many characters seem to change their personalities at will. The film manages to mix too many elements, including a subplot about a easily shocked private detective (wonderfully performed by Danny Glover). It also indulges in slapstick humor, as Philip, an endlessly unlucky character, suffers many injuries from mishaps with, among others, a window air-conditioner and a scalding hot shower.
It also features many funny moments thanks to Melfi’s screenplay that features a multitude of very funny one-liners delivered by the stars. The effortlessly charismatic Dinklage makes you root for his character despite his many flaws and hangdog demeanor, while MacLaine, still a force of nature at age 88, displays crack comic timing honed by 67 years (!) of big-screen experience. They are a joy to see in a film that may not live up to its many thematic ambitions, but still offers great pleasures.
Venue: Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Cast: Peter Dinklage, Shirley MacLaine, Matt Dillon, Danny Glover, Kimberly Quinn, Danny Pudi, Michelle Mylett
Director: Paul Dektor
Screenwriter: Theodore Melfi
Producers: Paul Dektor, Theodore Melfi, Peter Dinklage, Kimberly Quinn, David Ginsberg, Toyo Shimano
Executive producer: Kevin Root
Director of photography: Nicolas Bolduc
Production designer: Eric Fraser
Editor: Lisa Robison
Composer: Jeff Russo
Costume designer: Jori Woodman
1 hour 46 minutes
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.