Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The American President


My dear friend, Miss Betty Buckley, sent me one of her old Grizabella costumes for use in the new Meow Mix commercial that I am shortly to film. One immortal diva is to become another as the lush strains of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s score empower those gorgeous ‘Meow Meow’ lyrics. I was appalled at the ratty old costume.  Surely Betty must have mistakenly sent me one of her old cleaning rags. Moth eaten fur and tatters! It will never do. I immediately had it Hollanderized and sent off to Bob Mackie, begging him to do something with it so that my hordes of fans will be able to see my glamour and natural charms through all that yak hair. No sooner had I sent the costume off, when I had to start walking the precincts, getting out the vote in my race for Beverly Hills’ animal control officer. I learned two very important lessons half way through the day. First, never go doorbelling in four-inch stiletto heels. Second, doorbelling is a sort of performance art. When someone answered, I would say 'Hello everybody, this is Mrs. Norman Maine' and wait for the applause.

I came home and set about soaking my feet in a warm tub of Lysol and Tanqueray and then borrowed Nurse Tameka from Norman for a soothing foot massage. Norman had not had a good day. His lobotomy scar was hurting again and every time the neighbors’ used their garage door opener, the metal plate in his head picked up the signal and made him do a variation on St. Vitus' dance. He decided we should go to bed early with a favorite movie.

Norman's choice was The American President , one of his favorite romances of the last few decades. I think he has a thing for Annette Bening and, consequently, I never include her and Warren on the guest list for my famous soirees. (It has nothing to do with the rumors about Warren and I that circulated some years ago and I decline to comment on those rumors on advice of counsel.) In this movie, Annette is a high-powered attorney/lobbyist, newly arrived in DC, determined to take on congress and the White House over an energy bill that would cut fossil fuel emissions at the behest of the environmental lobby. Michael Douglas is the President - Widowed, noble, liberal in the right ways. They, of course, meet cute when he walks in on a meeting where she's busy insulting him and it's love at first sight. This turns into a national preoccupation with the President's love life but, as this movie is pre-Monica Lewinsky, we never find out if Annette wears a thong.

Soon, the personal and the political collide with the president stymied in his ability to conduct adult courting rituals by his position. His political enemies try to make hay with a consenting adult relationship outside the sanctity of marriage, especially when an old photo of Annette at a street protest turns up. Will the president find true love? Will he be required to sacrifice her pet bill for political gain? Will the leader of the opposition (Richard Dreyfuss at his most unctuous) be in a position to win the next election? This is a big budget studio romance. I think you can connect the dots.

Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay and, in many ways, it serves as sort of a dress rehearsal for his television series, The West Wing . It has the same sort of political immediacy and nobleness of character in its executive branch public servants. Martin Sheen even turns up, only this time he's chief of staff; he must have gotten promoted over the interim. An interesting supporting cast, including Samantha Mathis, Michael J. Fox, David Paymer and the great monologist Anna Deveare Smith pop up as other White House functionaries. Rob Reiner directs with a sure hand; several sequences, such as Annette (in a stunning blue evening dress), dancing with Michael at a state dinner to the lush strains of I Have Dreamed or a climactic press conference, stick in the mind long after the movie has ended. There are also a number of slick comic moments detailing the rocky road to romance for those in the public eye. I particularly like the problems of ordering flowers, having had similar difficulties myself due to my worldwide fame.  The film will never make the great films lists, but it is enjoyably watchable.

French presidents. Virginia Hams. Modern polling methods. Gratuitous trombone playing first daughter. Stirring political speeches. New Hampshire campaigning. Press room briefings. Gratuitous C-Span.

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