English 345 (Blog Post #4: The American President)

On this blog, we reflect on Rob Reiner’s The American President (1995).  It is a romantic comedy, DC-style.  We might say that it is a political lovefest about Washington maneuvering (and the triumph of good government) more than it is a story of two people who fall in love, face difficulties, and reunite in the end.  How does it compare to other rom-coms you’ve seen?  In what ways is this “political rom-com” different?

21 thoughts on “English 345 (Blog Post #4: The American President)

  1. The American President is different in many ways from other romantic comedies I’ve seen because of what the story seems to prioritize. In most romantic comedies, the romance seems to be the main focus with the outside story being secondary. In this film, a lot of the focus goes towards the president and his fight to keep his job and make the right choices. Instead of the main conflict being about the relationship itself or how outside forces are affecting the relationship, this story’s conflict is more how the relationship is affecting the president’s job and his image. There are many aspects of a romantic comedy seen in this film like the meet cute, the losing the girl and then getting her back. The final speech where the president defends his girlfriend and wins her back is a very romcom scene, but at the same time this moment isn’t solely about their relationship. It ties in and almost focuses more on the politics of his decision which makes this film a little unique compared to others in this genre.

  2. The American President is different from other rom-coms in that the plot is much more driven by the politics at hand rather than the romantic relationship, but this is only natural given this is the arena that both President Shepherd and Sydney share. In a way, this sets up the perfect situation for a relationship to emerge as naturally as it does. While the beginning of the relationship shows Sydney somewhat overwhelmed by the perceived power imbalance between the two and the outlandish idea of dating the President of the United States, the two are able to overcome this initial awkward stage and the eventual backlash from the public. Through the subgenre of “political rom-com”, the film is able to portray a much more wholesome view on Washington politics. While the struggle to pass the carbon emissions legislation and secure presidential re-election is, at many times, in the forefront of the film, the audience can tell the relationship being portrayed will be a lasting one because the things the couple have learned from each other about the importance of defending the character of those you love and standing for democratic ideals, even if that means not agreeing with each other over an individual piece of legislation, are clear by the film’s end. It is a “feel good” movie, but not in the traditional sense of portraying two people helplessly in love. Rather, it carries with it the good feeling that President Shepherd and Sydney together will continue to stand up for themselves and their country.

    • Very nice, Hannah. I like your point about politics being something both parties share. It’s like a third participant in their lives, but essential to their existence (a kind of menage-a-trois DC style?). This is the way in which the three can co-exist in this rom-com. Interesting…

  3. This is the first movie we have watched so far that deals with politics and the media. Which I think is a huge topic that is explored in so many TV-shows and movies. Politics has changed with time and the media is an enormous part of that change. People feel close to politicians (and celebrities, etc.) because they can see their faces and hear them speak relatively often on broadcast television. In this way, The American President is a story of Washington maneuvering and the triumph of good government because President Shepard overcomes the people’s perception of him and Sydney and denounces their accusations. These undertones of the film are different from other rom-coms, especially one’s from the 90s. However, I think that all rom-coms have something that is trying to keep the main characters apart. One thing that threatens their happiness, and in The American President that thing is the media. Really, The American President is like all other rom-coms.

  4. The American President does align with the typical rom-com formula in a lot of ways. The “meet-cute,” them falling in love and throwing their responsibilities to the wayside or often getting distracted, and then the break-up, the misunderstanding or argument that leads to one of the characters storming out, and then the reunion. I think the places that really stand out to me as different, and are the big reasons that this seems to truly be a “political rom-com” is the reason they break up and the profession of love that results in their reunion. When the President and Sydney get into a fight it is because he is too focused on getting reelected rather than actually enacting change. Her parting words “Mr. President, you got bigger problems than losing me. You just lost my vote” express this sentiment perfectly. She is ultimately upset that he cared more about getting reelected and playing the middle road than actually using his position of power to create change for the country. Then following this untraditional breakup, the profession of love is not even really a profession of love. Instead, the moment of reunion is brought on by an impromptu press conference, in which the President finally renounces the slander from his political opponent, mentioning specifically attacks on his and Sydneys character, followed by a declaration to finally stand up for his true beliefs, not the ones he think will work for him politically. This means getting rid of a phony crime bill and replacing it with one that will work and pushing through an aggressive environmental bill. The speech represents a shift in his role as president, that he won’t be just a figure-head playing the middle ground, and that he is going to do what he thinks is right for the safety of his country, even if that means losing voters and putting the future of his political career at risk. It is in this way that this speech is not a proclamation of love for Sydney, but instead one for the American people. It is ultimately this shift of ideals and character that brings Sydney back because she knew that he loved her, but she wasn’t happy with the role he was playing as president. This is what truly makes this a “political rom-com” is that throughout the movie the big rom-com moments are politically motivated instead of being personally or romantically motivated.

  5. The American President has many similarities to other rom-coms that I’ve seen. Most significantly, it follow the same overarching story that many rom-coms do. The whole movie starts with the two love interests, one of the being “the new girl in town” meeting each other in an awkward situation and becoming unlikely friends, despite the fact that there are many factors going against them. A problem arises, making their love forbidden, but the characters manage to find their way back to each other anyways. This is extremely common in many rom-coms. The other two main similarities that I noticed where the characters and the music. There are the ‘best friend’ characters that allow each love interest to talk about their feelings. For Sydney, her sister fills this role and for Andrew, his chief of staff. The music that is played throughout the film is also extremely similar to what is found in other romantic comedies. The big, swelling, orchestra pieces whenever something romantic happens fits in perfectly with the genre. However, there are also many key differences that make this political rom-com different than many others. Most importantly, the subject matter is different. Most romantic comedies deal with topics such as divorce or forbidden love, but few deal with something as serious as the bombing of Libya or accusing a female lobbyist of exchanging sexual favors for votes. This film also attempts to define what a good American is. This can be seen through the final monologue that the president has. In this speech, he not only defines a good American, but he resolves the story line with an idealistic version of how politics functions.

  6. The trope that comes to mind most when thinking about romantic-comedies would have to be the grand gesture or the “airport scene” – one character is about to leave (typically the heteronormative female protagonist) and the other (generically the heteronormative male protagonist) must run to them in a dramatic fashion in order to see if there’s one last shot at making their relationship work by means of pouring their heart out in a cheesy monologue about how they were wrong and how they can’t live without the other. We see this trope everywhere, sometimes the roles are reversed, but but in these heterosexual pairings the female is most likely to be the one leaving the male, who most likely has screwed up by means of hurting her, putting his career over their relationship, or mistaking a friendship for cheating. When romantic-comedies are turned on their head, or at least placed in a unique context like a political setting/Washington, D.C., these tropes are a little more difficult to detect, due to them not being as overtly in your face, but they are still present and can be seen especially in The American President (1995). Shepherd follows the typical path of a rom-com lead, his grand gesture may not be as simple as running in the rain to stop his one true love from leaving on a plane, but his actions reflect the gestures we see in countless films of this genre. In both a generic film and The American President, the male protagonist has to grapple with his career and his relationship, he meets his love interest in unique circumstances, they have an enemies-to-lovers arch similar to You’ve Got Mail (1998), and in the end he saves their relationship by realizing his flaws and making the grand gesture. Wade also follows the rom-com female protagonist archetype pretty well, I still view her as a dimensional character she doesn’t have the development and rich backstory that leads deserve, but for a romantic-comedy made in 1995, they do a decent job. The bouquet at the end to me is a signifier that this film is a rom-com above a political film. I see Washington as a character in the film more than just a setting, but overall the romance and relationship comes above politics.

  7. In viewing The American President as a romantic comedy, several things stuck out to me. The first thing was the music, because every time a romantic moment occurred, there was light classical romantic music that grew to a crescendo for the important moment of the scene. This reminded me of every other cheesy rom-com, specifically movies where there is conflict among the object of love. That said, the aspect of “forbidden love’ is huge in romantic movies. The idea that romance is not supposed to happen, admitting that it is a bad idea (as we saw Andrew Shepherd admit before he kisses Sydney for the first time) is a crucial point in most romantic movies (the most famous plot known from Shakespeares’ Romeo and Juliet). Especially seen in the ending of the movie, typically all conflict is resolved with a heartwarming monologue at the end of the film that wraps up the plot with a solution. We saw this with Shepherd’s press conference, where he does the “right thing” and wins back the favor of his country, and the girl. That said, this is a political, romantic comedy. The comedy is seen in the language used, an example being when Shepherd calls the Oval Office the “rec room.” The comedy almost clashes with the fact that it is a political film, because the President of the United States engages in petty humor, making this movie different from others. The aspect of romance is compared with the idea that Shepherd is the most powerful man in the world, making him dangerous yet unavoidable.

  8. Rob Reiner’s The American President goes beyond what is normal for a romantic comedy. Most romantic comedies I have seen all involve the same elements where the guy and girl meet, then fall in love, have a rough patch, and then ultimately come back together. This romantic comedy however goes beyond that simple scope. Instead of the film just being about two people in love, it results in a much broader message. As it is still a romantic comedy, it emphasizes good politics and has a more lasting impact for other people than just the two in the spotlight. Normally, a romantic comedy is supposed to emphasize the two in love and make everyone a side character. In The American President however, it includes how political decisions impact real people.

  9. The American President is like other romantic comedies I have seen in terms of the plot, where boy and girl fall in love, they have a falling out, then they come back together at the end. The movie is also like other romantic comedies, since the main female role had a lot of agency. Most of the rom coms I have seen have had self-assured, independent female characters. However, the movie is different from other romantic comedies because it has a strong political message that is intertwined with the romantic plot. I have watched a lot of Hallmark movies, which follow the same plot outline as The American President, but the movies do not have a strong left-wing message that is presented to the audience. Unlike Hallmark romantic comedies, The American President tries to persuade the audience to consider the liberal political agenda.

    • Yes, and I have to imagine there was at least some concern among producers of the film. After all, half the country is Republican. Would they be happy seeing themselves represented in the villain in the film? No way.

  10. While there are many things about this film that meet the typical standards for a Rom-Com (such as the way they meet accidentally and seemingly immediately fall for each other, the apparent betrayal only to make up by the end of the movie, the over the top gesture to win back the other person, and so many others), this film is definitely different than the rest. This film has an actual message about global warming. While most Rom-Com’s are just about a boy and a girl falling in ‘love’, this one follows a much more serious topic from start to finish. It really seemed like there was an underlying message about passing legislation.

  11. The American President is definitely similar to other Romantic Comedies I’ve seen. The awkward way they meet in the beginning, an issue to separate them, and then the grand gesture at the end to show their love. Once you meet Sydney you can tell she will be the awkward one of the couple and that the President will find her stumbling cute. They both confide in their best friends, for Sydney, it’s her sister, for the President it’s AJ, his chief of staff. The grand gesture at the end where the President pushes through the environment bill is very similar to the standard rom-com ending. The political issues that are intertwined in this movie, however, sets it apart and, at least for me, more interesting than your usual rom-com. The political side of the movie is just as important as the romantic side, the President is in the middle of re-election as he pursues Sydney, which causes a strain on his staff and his lead in the polls. His opponent uses this to his advantage and you see his lead slowly get smaller and smaller until he is left with an ultimatum. If he pushes the crime bill he will break his deal with Sydney but that would guarantee his re-election, but he’d lose Sydney. The President’s speech after he does this is a grand gesture, but only a small portion is really about Sydney. He makes important points on what it takes to be president and stands for what he believes in and not just what will get him reelected. In the end, it isn’t solely about him and Sydney getting back together, but also standing up for what you believe in.

  12. You use the word “awkward” to describe the meeting between the two leads. I have to admit, I’ve never found this “cute meet” very cute. It strikes me as more crude. But we are asked to believe that the President sees a fire in the lobbyist that attracts him. Again, I think big issues trump the individual personality quirks in this film.

  13. The American President compares remarkably similar to other Romantic Comedies. The story focuses on a typical forbidden love story: boy meets girl, girl meets boy, there is a spark, and everyone around them disapproves of the pairing. The two fall in love despite the opposition, only to have a falling out, but they inevitably end up together. The script includes clear humor and adds a common element of a stereotypical rom-com movie. One humorous line is when President Shephard describes his initial interaction with Sydney: “she threatened me, I patronized her… I felt a connection”. Both main characters are well-defined, which adds a positive element in Reiner’s Political Romantic Comedy. The woman does not exist solely to find love, and neither does the man. A clear difference I noticed in this movie compared to others in the same genre is that Reiner does not include a lot of the stereotyped and well-known music scenes with b-roll. The movie focuses on the story and the script and ultimately does not include a lot of the stereotypical elements of a rom-com like the edited scenes in different locations with music playing overhead. There are, of course, some scenes that utilize these aspects, but it is not overplayed because the focus of the movie is not solely on the two lovebirds. There are additional plots.

  14. I can’t say that I’m especially versed in rom-coms, but this one seemed to have charm to it because of the way the romance essentially trounced the most political of situations. As I was watching I couldn’t help but think that a president would never actually start dating someone in an election year, particularly someone of political significance, but at the same time I was happy it was happening because it’s the “human” aspect of it. Of course, there is the conflict that at least I felt about the president using his powers for things that he would likely get in trouble for, as well as the nature of his power being quite dominant in his pursuing of Sydney. Both of those things felt like they would pose real, obstructing problems in real life, but it is the distortion of reality in that way that makes it different from other rom-coms, because It’s the rejection of one of the most deep-rooted and powerful institutions in American Government simply for the sake of love. In doing that, however, the movie still weaves a detailed political plot into the story and uses the presidential office in executing drama that operates with the highest stakes, those being the loss not only of love but of control of the country. This film just seems to intertwine romance and politics in a way that leaves one having actual respect and admiration for both, which feels like it would normally be very difficult.

  15. This film does have many aspects that are familiar in the rom-com genre, like the way that the two lovers meet, sparks flying immediately, a fight, reconciliation, etc. However, it is of course different due to the political setting of the film. Like how their relationship is used against the President by his opponent. The president also deals with the issue of his numbers in the polls and the bill he’s trying to pass, which leads to him having to choose between politics and love. The foundation of these issues can be seen in other rom-coms, but not of a political nature.

  16. The American President (1995) is different from other rom-com’s I’ve seen in that, while there are familiar tropes in the film that peg it as such, the story itself doesn’t rely on those cliches to drive the conflict of the film, but instead sets a budding relationship smack-dab in the middle of a political drama. It’s a familiar tale of forbidden love and starts off with a classic nineties “meet cute” of awkward first encounters and snappy dialogue between two leads that seem all-too-familiar and tired even for the time: the laid-back and somewhat goofy underdog with a tragic backstory and heart of gold, and the straight-laced, independent and passionate environmentalist who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and that sets off the spark that so many fictional couples have had since Austen. The film’s inciting incident is the bet between Sheppard and Wade regarding the environmental bill. Following another awkward encounter, one would expect Reiner to continue this song and dance of Sheppard continuously trying to woo Wade, she keeps rebuffing him, and the competition coming to a head as the two continue to play the agonizing game of “will they, won’t they” until the climax reaches its peak, and the lovebirds finally get together. One passionate kiss, a funny quip later, and BOOM; roll credits.

    Except Reinfield doesn’t do that. Once the initial awkwardness and misunderstandings are over and dealt with, he allows them to go on a date and…get together in less than thirty minutes into a nearly two-hour film. Instead of making the audience tear their hair out in frustration over watching two oblivious or bickering idiots dance around their obvious feelings for each other, he allows two characters to get together and explore the conflicts of their relationship in an intense political climate. The two have great chemistry and enough personality to see WHY they would be attracted to each other, and even the third act “breakup” scene isn’t made out of a stupid, contrived misunderstanding, but is instead the result of desperate meddling that is just as quickly resolved.

  17. As someone who loves rom-coms, I’ve seen different kinds of political rom coms before, but I didn’t really realize they were political until I looked them up. For example, Maid in Manhattan is a political rom com since the male lead is a senator who fell in love with a hotel maid. The difference between Maid in Manhattan and The American President is how much more politics are seen in the movie. In The American President, we see more of the process that comes with passing bills as Sydney is lobbying the climate bill and we also get to see what a day in the life of the president. However, the movie still fulfill that rom com aspect as we see Andrew and Sydney going on dates and falling in love with each other. All in all, I loved this movie. But that may be that way because I am a sucker for rom coms.

  18. In many ways, The American President does follow typical rom-com conventions. It has many of the classic rom-com tropes: a “meet-cute”, characters known for being perpetually lonely/ married to their jobs, a dramatic fight at the eleventh hour, a grand gesture to them back, friends who are overly invested in the relationship one way or another. Even the general set-up, man in powerful position falls in love with passionate woman trying to oppose him, is familiar territory for rom-coms; we’ve seen this plot done several times in a corporate setting. What really sets The American President apart from other rom-coms, as well as other movies in general, is its willingness to engage with and take a stance on actual political issues. Many Washington DC set movies center on non-controversial issues that the audience couldn’t possibly take fault with, from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’s bill about creating a camp for boys to Legally Blonde 2’s lobbying around ending cosmetic animal testing. The fact that The American President takes a hard stance on environmental issues and gun control sets it apart. Interestingly, while other political movies we’ve watched have felt depressingly out of date with today’s fraught political climate, The American President’s political scenes still felt shockingly relevant. For example, Shepherd’s speech stating that his opponent uses fear mongering and focuses on blaming all of your problems on certain people instead of actually trying to solve them could easily apply to recent elections.

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