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The American President is a 1996 romantic drama directed by Rob Reiner (in his first film after the infamous North) and written by Aaron Sorkin, starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, and Martin Sheen. These days it is most noted for being basically a dress rehearsal for Sorkin's later tv series The West Wing, which included a number of the same actors, albeit in different parts.
US President Andrew Shepherd (Douglas), previously the governor of Wisconsin and a widower/single father, is on top of the world as the movie starts. His poll numbers are excellent, and together with his staff, which includes Chief of Staff A. J. MacInerney (Sheen) and Lewis Rothschild (Fox), he is planning to pass a major new crime bill. However, things change when he meets Sydney Ellen Wade (Bening), an environmental lobbyist who has been hired to push for new legislation. After the typical Meet Cute, Shepherd asks her out, and they begin dating, which of course draws major media interest.
This also grabs the attention of Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), who has an eye to challenging Shepherd in the next election, and wants to use his relationship with Sydney to drag the President through the mud. This calls into question Shepard's previous "family man" reputation and his professional judgement as the "most powerful man on Earth."
Features typically strong dialogue from Aaron Sorkin and good performances all around.
Tropes featured include:
- Adorkable: Pres. Shephard may be the most powerful man in the world but he is also just a guy who wants to win the heart of the girl he likes and basically can't stop smiling the first time he meets her. (And he gets in a great line concerning the tag of "the most powerful man in the world" while professing he's nervous about the sex they're about to have)
- All-Star Cast: Top to bottom filled with veteran name actors.
- American Title
- Captain Obvious: "My name is Bob Rumson, and I'm running for President!"
- Contractual Purity: An In-Universe version where Shepard and Wade try to experience a relatively normal, adult relationship but the massive media attention skews it to where Wade is a "whore" and Shepard is taking her as his mistress. Shepard explains the trope as such in his final speech.
- Deadpan Snarker: It's a film written by Aaron Sorkin, so needless to say, EVERYONE is this.
- Expy: Most of the major characters are embryonic versions of the cast of Sorkin's The West Wing, which makes watching it an interesting experience for fans of the show. For instance:
- Andrew Shepherd = Jed Bartlet
- A. J. = Leo
- Robin = C. J.
- Lewis = Josh
- Leon = Toby
- Mrs. Chapil = Mrs. Landingham
- Fiery Redhead: Sydney
- Gilligan Cut: When the amount of coverage starts to heat up, Sydney goes to the White House, telling her sister that she plans to end their relationship. She ends up consummating it instead.
- Hey, It's That Guy!: Filled with character actors you're bound to recognize, including Samantha Mathis, David Paymer, and Anne Haney.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Pres. Shephard regarding his relationship with Sydney.
- Inferred Holocaust: Think the speech at the end was a Crowning Moment of Awesome? Not according to this article.
- Ironic Echo: "My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I *am* the President!"
- It's Not You, It's My Enemies: An inversion as it's Sydney who proposes they stay away from each other until after the election is over so as to not hurt his re-election chances.
- Meet Cute: See Right Behind Me.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sen. Rumson is pretty obviously based on Bob Dole. Shepherd and his staff are likewise heavily based on various people in the Clinton Administration.
- Parent with New Paramour: Andrew is a widower with a 12 year-old daughter.
- Precision F-Strike: A rare PG-13 film with three of them.
- Production Posse: Sorkin's "good luck charm" Joshua Malina has his usual small role, along with a bunch of other actors who would pop up in later Sorkin projects, including Martin Sheen (A. J./President Bartlet), Anna Deavere Smith (Robin McCall/NSA Nancy McNally), and Nina Siemaszko (Beth Wade/Ellie Bartlet).
- Reality Subtext: This film was made during the Clinton administration, when two main criticisms of the then-president concerned Hillary Clinton's influence in presidential matters, and about Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs.
- Right Behind Me: During her initial meeting with A.J. MacInerny, Sydney Wade verbally tears into President Shepherd for his refusal to give her environmental group's cause as much support as they want. Midway through her rant, Shepherd quietly enters the room and stands behind her, introducing himself only when she finishes. Later, though, when she apologizes to him, he takes it all in stride, reminding her that being viciously criticized like that is all a part of his job as President.
- Rousing Speech: The climax is Shepherd delivering one of these. And an awesome one at that.
- Sarcastic Confession: Not done on purpose, but when Shepard introduces himself over the phone to Wade she doesn't believe him. She then proceeds to mock him, figuring he was a friend pulling a prank. Shepard then gives her the White House number with his extension in order to convince her.
- Sexy Shirt Switch: An unusual example is Wade dresses in one in a manner evoking Ready for Lovemaking, rather than after the fact.
(President Shepherd and A.J. are playing pool):
A.J.: Nice shot, Mr. President.
President Shepherd: 'Nice shot, Mr. President?' You won't even call me by my name when we're playing pool?
A.J.: I will not do it playing pool, I will not do it in a school. I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I Am.
President Shepherd: At ease, A.J., at ease.
- Shown Their Work: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more accurate portrayal of the day-to-day workings of the White House. The sets would be re-used for The West Wing.
- Spiritual Successor: The West Wing
- Strawman Political: Bob Rumson, whose political party is never named, but that's not fooling anyone.
- Actually, he is named as a GOP candidate at one point, so he's confirmed as a Republican. It's just easy to miss.
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs: A.J. consistently calls Andrew "Mr. President" even when they're alone, despite them having been the best of friends for years. (When Andrew calls him out on this once, he delivers his reply in the form of a Shout-Out to Dr. Seuss.)
A.J.: Nice shot, Mr. President.
Andrew: "Nice shot, Mr. President"?! You won't even call me by my name when we're playing pool?
A.J.: I will not do it playing pool. I will not do it in a school. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them. Sam--
Andrew: At ease, AJ. At ease!
- What the Hell, Hero?: Louis gives this one to Shepherd, but he has a good response to it.
- World of Cardboard Speech: Shepard's final speech where he addresses the whole controversy and admits his own faults both in his relationship with Sydney and with the stance he needed to make with policies and bills as the President.
- You Can Always Tell a Liar: Sydney says Shephard has a look when he's holding something back. And of course, he's doing it while not telling her he's failing on his end of the agreement with the GDC.
Sydney: Andy, you're doing that thing with your face.