Once upon a time, the phrase, “The American Dream” evoked something good, proud, and pure about our nation. It prompted reflections on hardworking immigrants lured to the U.S. by the promise of home ownership, financial stability, and a better future for their children. It brought up images of Norman Rockwell paintings, family holidays, and twilight years spent rocking on the porch surrounded by grandchildren.
Then, over the course of a few decades, that dream became so common a reality for so many that its value withered in our collective imagination and a new unsavory, maniacal kind of Dream (many might even call it a nightmare) took its place. In this dream, significance is measured by public recognition not public contribution, and the value of a growing family and a home owned outright in which to raise them pales in comparison to the achievement of getting a record deal.
As a scathing indictment of this new national aspiration, Paul Weitz’s (American Pie, In Good Company) latest film, American Dreamz, succeeds with aplomb.
Taking its title from "American Idol," much of the film focuses on self-hating television host, Martin Tweed (a wonderfully acerbic Hugh Grant), whose hit program “American Dreamz” specializes in showcasing the vocal talents of “freaks.”
So unscrupulous is Tweed in his desire for ratings, he decides to exploit Middle East tensions by ordering his production team to find him an Arab and an Israeli for a singing showdown. (In this, Weitz brilliantly indicts a Hollywood mindset that believes everything, even geopolitics, exists to feed the entertainment machine).
The only decent audition tape they receive from an Arab comes from Prince-loving gay teen Iqbal (Tony Yalda) of Orange County. However, when the Dreamz crew shows up to congratulate Iqbal, they find his cousin, Omer (Sam Golzari), a sleeper-cell operative who also happens to love show tunes, and recruit him instead.
Of all the characters inhabiting American Dreamz, Iqbal most cuttingly sends up America’s obsession with fame. Though it’s implied they came from much humbler beginnings, his Middle-Eastern parents buy into our culture of mass consumption with platinum credit cards charged to the max. They indulge their son’s every impulse, including a basement sound studio complete with a stage and disco ball. Iqbal is privileged, loved, and given every advantage. Yet, when he’s not at the mall, he spends his days depressed and defensive because he’s not a “star.”
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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