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25 years ago: Amid political rancor, we swooned over 'The American President'

25 years ago: Amid political rancor, we swooned over 'The American President'

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On Nov. 17, 1995, the movie "The American President" opened in St. Louis and won high praise from our critic. Here is the original review that ran in the Post-Dispatch.

Michael Douglas is the best president we've had since Kevin Kline.

In the wonderfully entertaining "The American President," Douglas plays Andrew Shepherd, a widowed Democratic president who falls in love with an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening), and his already unbelievably complicated life becomes more so. The movie is nearly as good as "Dave," in which Kline brought more humanity to the presidency than anyone since Harry Truman. Among the many things "The American President" does very well is give a real sense of what it must be like to live and work in the White House. Its grasp of the way presidential politics work seems flawless, or at least thoroughly convincing.

But beneath the deep texture director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin create, beneath the vividly portrayed political squabbles and the pointed commentary on the intrusion of the media into every crevice of presidential life, "The American President" is a very successful romantic comedy. It asks the intriguing question, "In these tabloid times, could an unmarried president carry on a courtship with the woman he loves?"

Not without unleashing the dogs of hell. Still, Andrew Shepherd persists, and that is the pivot on which both the comedy and the romance turn.

Shepherd is a Democrat, moderately liberal, but as the movie opens he is listening more to his chief of staff (Martin Sheen), his pollster (David Paymer) and his press secretary (writer-performer Anna Deavere Smith) than he is to his conscience and his outspoken domestic policy adviser (Michael J. Fox).

One of his concerns is that he is going to have to run for re-election against a pit-bull conservative senator from Kansas (Richard Dreyfuss), who slavers when he hears Shepherd has a girlfriend.

As you can see, "The American President" edges very close to some current realities, and part of its charm comes from letting us inside a world that is closed to most of us. In the end, it unabashedly tries to make us feel good about our country and its political process.

In these rancorous, ugly times, sentimentality about democracy, the electoral process and the Bill of Rights may be naive, but it is quite welcome.

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Robert Fancher, owner of Red Flag, gives a preview of the venue that's scheduled to open in 2021. A few small shows and movie nights already have been held in the space.

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