This film is packed with good actors. Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, Richard Dreyfuss, John Mahoney, Wendy Malick all have roles in this film where the widowed President (Douglas) begins a relationship with a lobbyist (Bening).
At first I thought it may just be a light, fluffy romcom (which I have no problem with) but there was actually a lot of substance here and it dealt with some deeper issues. The main story is that President Andrew Shepherd is coming to the end of his term and is up for re-election. In the last election he was basically given a free pass by the Republicans because he was widowed so they couldn’t attack his character, but he’s tired of being single and when he meets Sydney he wants to pursue a relationship with her. He doesn’t see why this should be a concern of the White House because it’s a personal matter, but his approval ratings plummet as the Republicans exploit the chink in his armour.
The relationship between the two characters develops as the election draws closer, and they both have to deal with the ramifications of their relationship. The situation had a lot of potential for comedic moments and a lot of the film was light-hearted, yet it never fell into farce. A lot of it was actually realistic, and the events of The American President are believable, I could easily imagine something similar happening if a President began to date someone.
But it also had a lot of meat to it. It brought up the subject of whether the President is allowed a life of his own, and how important perception is in politics. The President was often portrayed as the only character with common sense, because all he wanted to do was date a woman he liked and he didn’t see anything wrong with that, but his staff were continually trying to make him see that because he was the President nothing in his life could be simple. A lot of issues were brought up and I suppose they would influence whether you liked the film, depending on your political leanings. I did, however, think it was odd that they basically came out and said that most, if not all American citizens are eager to believe whatever is spoon-fed to them. It seemed rather cynical.
However, the script was sharp and the cast played off each other excellently, as you would expect with such a talented group of actors. The chemistry between Douglas and Bening was sweet and believable. All in all I found it an absorbing, intelligent and entertaining film. It balanced the levity and the seriousness really well, and at times there was a lot of tension. Highly recommended, I really enjoyed this one.