American Dreamz: Paul Weisz’ Comedy

Known for turning an affectionate yet satirical eye on hormonally charged teens in American Pie, arrested adolescents in About a Boy, and the changing face of corporate culture with In Good Company, Paul Weisz delivers American Dreamz, a comedy derived from our contemporary popular culture.

In this film, Weisz focuses on the shrinking attention span of most Americans, more drawn to what’s hot on TV than on hot-button headlines that affect our relationships with the world and with each other.

American Dreamz is produced, written, and directed by Weitz, whose creative team includes director of cinematography Robert Elswit (Good Night, and Good Luck), production designer William Arnold (Shopgirl), costume designer Molly Maginis (As Good As It Gets), editor Myron Kerstein (Garden State), and composer Stephen Trask (The Station Agent).

On the morning of his reelection, President Joe Satton (Dennis Quaid) decided to read the newspaper for the first time in four years, an act that surprises his doting First lady (Marcia Gay Harden) and his manipulative Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe).

Holed up in pajamas in his bedroom, the President begins obsessively reading and reexamining his formerly black-and-white view of the world, shocked at what he is discovering. Frightened by his boss’ apparent nervous breakdown, and plummeting approval rating, the Chief pushes him back into the spotlight by booking him as a guest judge on a TV ratings beast: The weekly talent show, American Dreamz.

Long curious about the roots of quirky human behavior and its comic potential, Weisz and his team at depth of Field Productions found the concept for a satirical film familiar territory. He had previously tackled social issues in the comedies American Pie, About a Boy, and In Good Company. But the often-bizarre political and social climate of the past few years had left the filmmaker pondering an even greater challenge: Reality politics.

Genesis of the Project

I was interested in making a film about a core aspect of the American identity, the idea that we are all supposed to have a dream. We’re supposed to want something better than what we actually have. I was intrigued by the questions of, “Why are we watching shows like American Idol Why are so many American enthralled with cheering for their favorites, for the underdog, for the most deserving, for the most talented Is it a fad, or is there something deeper behind it

Appeal of American Idol

Part of the appeal of American Idol, or in my movie the show American Dreamz, is the idea that we can take somebody and make a star out of them. There’s nothing better than sitting in the comfort of your living room and not dealing with your problems, and being thrown into the deepest desires of real people. Everybody in some way is consumed by a ream here, for better or worse.

America’s Inevitable Decline

We’re the only superpower. I found myself asking, ‘Is achieving a dominant status in the world the final step before moral and political decline for a society’ And, of course, the next thing that leaps to my mind is comedy.

Unfulfilled Dreams

I put pen to paper and wrote ‘an utterly insane comedy about the idea that everybody in America has a dream, and how that ‘great thing’ can actually drive our culture crazy.

Inspiration for the Movie

Part of the inspiration for the film was my fascination with pop culture and ‘American Idol'”the juxtaposition of being interested and obsessed with the show while world events become crazier. As Sally Kendoo, one of the show’s contestants, says: “I’d rather jab my eyes out with a toothpick and eat them than lose this thing.”

Casting the Troupe

Many members of the cast are veterans of our films. Casting was like a fever dream”all these people I knew doing these crazy characters.

Hugh Grant

Hugh Grant starred in my comedy, About a Boy as Will, the self-involved bachelor who finally grows up with the help of a young boy. I sent Hugh the new script, and I think he was upset when he read it, and actually was intrigued by it. Hugh has a very cynical, acid sense of humor and uses that to its fullest extent in American Dreamz, as the show’s self-aggrandizing, self-loathing host, Martin Tweed. Just watch him when he says, ‘I’m talking human, and by human I mean flawed, and by flawed I mean freaks. Find me some freaks.’

Dennis Quaid

I cast Dennis as Joe Staton, the American President, during a single conversation with him, after we worked together on In Good Company. Dennis brings a lot of heart to whatever he does, so this would have been boring if he had just done a parody of President Bush.

Mandy Moore

I cast actress and singer Mandy Moore to play the manipulative Sally Kendoo, who uses all her talents to make it to the finals in this latest season of American Dreamz. Sally is basically a sociopath; she desperately wants to be a star. I wanted Mandy because I actually believe she could win American Dreamz. There’s something very sweet about her, and it makes it very interesting to see her in a villainess role.

Chris Klein

Chris, who played the do-gooder jock in American Pie, is cast as William, Sally’s wounded war veteran and dim-witted beau. Klein’s character encapsulates the film’s message that “Everybody is consumed by a dream here”for better or worse. He’s fixating on this girl who clearly doesn’t care for him, thinking his love for her is going to overcome everything.

Casting Newcomers

Adding a unique spin to the movie is a group of newcomers, including Sam Golzari as Omer, Tony Yalda as Iqbal, Noureen deWulf as Shazzy, and Adam Busch as Sholem. One of the big thrills for me in filmmaking is to take people who’ve done absolutely nothing and in movies and put them with people who are incredibly well known stars. It points to the fact that acting is an amazing talent, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve done it a hundred times or are doing it for the first time.