Dark comedy done right in “American Dreamer”

Published 12:01 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

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This week at the Tryon Theatre, we have a biting black comedy starring the always compelling Peter Dinklage: “American Dreamer.” Adapted from a segment of the NPR series This American Life, this film follows a struggling economics professor, Dr. Phil Loder, who vies to satisfy a lifelong dream of owning a beautiful home. This film is Paul Dektor’s directorial debut and was adapted for the screen by writer Theodor Melfi (best known for writing the screenplay of and directing “Hidden Figures” in 2016).

This narrative premise of “American Dreamer” is relatively simple, with much of its plot and character development stemming from the complications of a seemingly simplistic situation. Dr. Loder, frustrated with his work and destitute financially and emotionally, has placed all of his hopes on his fantasy of securing a dream home. His search for this potential panacea to his troubles has yielded increasing frustration and numerous setbacks until a situation, seemingly too good to be true, presents itself. An aging widow, soon to pass from our world, has put her immaculate home on the market, a stately and picturesque waterfront manor, and is asking for pennies on the dollar. However, there is one complicating factor to this otherwise perfect opportunity: the widow, Astrid, is only selling under the condition that she be allowed to finish out her final days in the house, remaining an indefinite housemate to any new owner. 

This odd couple’s cohabitation creates complications almost instantaneously, mining their friction and their terrible luck for the comedy of the film, laughs and unease intertwined in a dance of errors, misunderstandings, and painful coincidence. The comedy derived from this plot is frequent but also frequently dark; the film is firmly seated in the genre of black comedy. “American Dreamer” is exceptionally well cast for its tone of comedy. Dinklage, who has frequented our screen in the past year, has a tremendous countenance for conveying exhaustion and weariness, the constant state of Dr. Loder. And performing opposite Dinklage as the widow Astrid is an actress perfectly cast to convey her age and her acerbic sass, Shirley Maclaine. These two thespians perform wonderfully off one another, exasperation and escalation constantly at play, their shared suffering providing spectacle and comedy for the audience.  

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Like most comedies, “American Dreamer” keeps its runtime short, an appropriate match to the pacing of the dialogue. However, as a “black” comedy, the tone of the humor will not be as light as its pacing, with Dr. Loder’s anguish and pettiness providing many of the film’s laughs. We trust that our adult audiences will appreciate and enjoy the acidity of this film’s comedy, but firmly recommend against bringing the kids. “American Dreamer” is a film meant for adults in its themes and its laughs. Hopefully, you will enjoy some possibly reluctant laughs with us! 

On one important programming note, this Thursday does not have any subtitled showtimes as the studio did not produce a subtitled version of this film.