Creator Learned to Love Pop 'Dreamz'

With a dream cast that includes Hugh Grant, Dennis Quaid, and Mandy Moore, “American Dreamz” promises to be a successful notch in the career of up-and-coming writer/director Paul Weitz. With his brother Chris, he made his first mark in Hollywood with the smash teen comedy “American Pie.” He has also written and directed “About a Boy” (2002) and “In Good Company” (2004).

“American Dreamz” is another comedy that focuses its plotline on American pop culture straight from the headlines. The United States President (Quaid)—a dense Texan who reads the newspaper for the first time after his re-election—is startled to discover the terrors of the world. After holing himself in his room for several weeks, his chief-of-staff (an unrecognizable Willem Defoe, “Spider-Man”) books him to be a guest judge on the most popular show on the air, “American Dreamz.”

The show, a more fantastical version of “American Idol,” is dominated by one self-absorbed British Judge (Grant) and contestants that include a cute blonde named Sally Kendoo (Moore).

Despite the heavy issues and political satire, “Dreamz” is a personal film for Weitz. “I did not expect myself to make it, but then it just came to me and wrote itself almost easily,” he said in an interview with The Crimson.

“Dreamz” blends politics with popular culture, but Weitz maintains that figures like Karl Rove and Simon Cowell should be flattered.

“The only way to grapple with [a lot of these political issues] is through comedy, and we didn’t try to be scathing” says Weitz.

While the film may come across as anti-pop culture, Weitz insists that is not the intention.

“This film is definitely not just a flat-out rejection of pop culture,” he says.

If anything, “Dreamz” simply illustrates America’s fascination with popular culture—right down to Grant’s spot-on Cowell impression. One character in the film that demonstrates this obsession is Omar, a still-learning terrorist who is supposed to infiltrate “American Dreamz,” but becomes caught up in his love of show tunes.

The making of the film itself was a challenge for Weitz, who had a small budget from Universal, a 40-day shoot (the director’s longest), and a legitimately large cast—regardless of how many of these actors he had worked with previously.

His relationship with his actors is of particular note in Hollywood, where it is uncommon for friendships to emerge. Weitz says that he “really enjoys working with actors.” As opposed to the image of uptight directors, Weitz finds actors to contribute to a “calm and creative atmosphere.”

“So much realism can come from these actors,” says Weitz, who was particularly impressed with Chris Klein (“American Pie”), the army veteran boyfriend of Sally.

Having also worked alongside Quaid and Grant before, Weitz says he was thrilled that they were both willing to come aboard: “Dennis was especially great at adapting the mannerisms of Bush—I’m not even sure where he stands politically.”

Talking about his latest feature, Weitz waxes philosophical and sees a lot of himself in various characters.

“With Omar there is the naïve, show-tunes loving kid,” he says of the character who comes across as genuinely enamored with this fantasy of America. He continues that “with Hugh’s character there’s the cynical, world-weary guy who just thinks everything sucks.”

Ultimately Weitz is proud of his work, but does “expect people to complain—depending on how slow the news week is.”

But the political spin of the movie is really secondary, according to Weitz, and he goes so far as to call it a “cultural comedy.”

Citing comparison to early Mel Brooks, Weitz says that “this is a comedy and heightened fantasy.”

—Staff writer Jessica C. Coggins can be reached at jcoggins@fas.harvard.edu.