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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The American President

Air Date: Week of

Ronni Liberman of the Sierra Club reviews this new film about a widowed President who falls in love with an environmental lobbyist.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. This holiday season's crop of new movies is much like years past, except there's a new twist on the perennial White House comedy plot. A widowed president who falls for an environmental activist. Rob Reiner directed The American President with Michael Douglas in the title role romancing Annette Bening. We thought we'd ask a real eco-lobbyist for her review of the film. Ronni Liberman is Media Director of the Sierra Club.

LIBERMAN: Movies are all about fantasy, and The American President is no exception. If there are environmentalists out there with plush offices like the one Annette Bening has, I've never met them. Or maybe one of us makes as much money as the President. Right. And all journalists look like Robert Redford. And I won't even touch the fairy tale of an activist and the President publicly falling in love. That's really just show-biz.

But as show-biz fantasies go, this one is a lot of fun. I must admit I'm prejudiced. The American President combines 2 of my favorite things: romance and the environment. As the President, Michael Douglas's heart is in the right place on the environment, but he keeps compromising for the sake of politics. When he hears the feisty words of environmental advocate Annette Bening at a White House meeting, he's amused and intrigued. As the lobbyist hired by an environmental lobbying group, Bening's Sydney Ellen Wade learns about energy efficiency issues quickly, then gets her messages down simply and clearly. Huhhhhh! If it only happened that easily.

But love and politics is a slippery match. The President must balance swapping votes for principles. The relationship nearly hits the skids as the President tries to trade votes on environmental legislation to preserve his crime bill. Still, The American President does hit all the right environmental buttons. Bening is fighting for a 20% reduction in energy consumption by the year 2,000 to curb global warming, and even the President acknowledges global warming as the single greatest environmental threat.

Mostly the movie gets a thumbs-up for accuracy. Michael J. Fox does a great imitation of George Stephanopolis, and Martin Sheen is wonderful as the Mack McClarty-like chief of staff. Director Rob Reiner even includes the crazy traffic in DuPont Circle. The only other problem is Annette Bening's roots aren't showing. That's her grass roots. You don't win in Congress without them. And her organization doesn't seem to have the activists who write letters, make phone calls, and meet with their members of Congress back home to support important issues that give us the right to a safe and healthy environment. I guess that's another movie.

CURWOOD: Ronni Liberman is media director of the Sierra Club.



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