Review: American Dreamer


“What do we need to be happy? How far are we willing to go to get it? This is a human being’s daily dilemma,” asserts Dr. Phil Loder, an economics professor whose students hang on his every word.

Move over Steve Martin! Peter Dinklage’s slapstick in “American Dreamer” is reminiscent of those hilarious Martin routines that begin with over-confidence and hope but end in physical mishap and humiliation. Frustrated, Loder (played by Dinklage) wants an elegant mansion to bolster his ego and placate his resentment at being at the bottom of the totem pole everywhere he looks: his career, his dating life, his pocketbook, and attaining the American Dream.

Then, unexpectedly and without plausible reason, he finds himself seduced by a beautiful young woman and signed up to live in an idyllic mansion with majestic grounds on the water.

Oh, but yes, there are catches! The beautiful woman named Clare (played by the lovely Michelle Mylett) is his student and the mansion proposition involves letting Astrid Fanelli (a magnificent portrayal by Shirley MacLaine) remain living in her house.

McLaine, in her late 80s while filming this movie, inhabits her character with her famous sardonic wit and physical agility. She vibrates with electrical energy. Pairing her up with Dinklage was a master-stroke in casting.

But here’s the deal. Loder (Dinklage), frustrates everyone, including his capitalist real estate agent (a vacuous opportunist brilliantly played by Matt Dillon). He has no qualms about answering an ad to buy Astrid’s mansion for $240,000, which amounts to the liquidation of all he owns. As long as he lives in the meager servant’s quarters while Astrid is alive, he can have the mansion when she dies.

There are plenty of ridiculous plot lines, like why doesn’t Astrid arrange to give her mansion to a charity or those she says are related to her at death? Maybe she is eccentric and creative. Maybe she’s a romantic. Maybe she needs a quick infusion of cash.

Whatever the case, Astrid pretends to be wheelchair-bound and close to death. Her emotional and physical vicissitudes steal the show. We want to see more of the still cinematically versatile MacLaine!

Dinklage’s capacity for self-deprecating humor and awkward clumsiness sets him up to be a great slapstick satirist, a la Charlie Chaplin and Steve Martin. But in the end, Loder’s quest for happiness involves a new examination of what the American Dream is all about as well as what it might take to realize it.

“American Dreamer” took a few years to get distributed, but it is worth a look, especially to see the charismatic MacLaine in action.


Director: Paul Dektor
Screenplay: Theodore Melfi
Screen Story: Theodore Melfi and Chris Wehner
Cast: Peter Dinklage,Shirley MacLaine, Kim Quinn, Michelle Mylett, Danny Pudi, Danny Glover and Matt Dillon
Producers: Theodore Melfi, Kim Quinn, Peter Dinklage, David Ginsberg, Toyo Shimano and Paul Dektor
Executive Producer: Kevin Root
Released: March 15, 2024
How to View: Prime Video

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