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MacLaine wakes American Dreamer Dinklage

NPR listeners of the “This American Life” program find something extra to appreciate in a movie whose boast as quote “based on a true story” adds its own caveat with the words “sort of.” An item in the radio show inspired screenwriters Theodore Melfi and Christopher Wehner’s script for American Dreamer about a man who goes for a house buying opportunity that seems too good to be true. And of course, it is. With liberal doses of reimagining, the movie presents Peter Dinklage as a university economics professor who scrapes together all his cash to buy a $10 million-dollar American dreamhouse for a mere $240,000. He already asked his students if, “things are our value,” noting disparagingly that in fact most people consider themselves a collection of things. A bitter, grumpy sort who brings on most of his own troubles, the professor falls victim to the desire for possessions when he buys that house with its set of rules--he gets to live in only an unkempt portion of it until its doddering owner dies off, soon he hopes. We viewers rarely apply that word doddering to Shirley MacLaine, so we expect the professor’s plans to go off kilter. And we wonder, who qualifies as the biggest scammer/villain? Numerous other characters possibly fit the bill, requiring a deft touch from director Paul Dektor.  His hand falls more heavily than helpful at times, but his fine cast steps in to lift the project and enhance its appeal.  Ultimately, American Dreamer reaches its goal as an amusing dark comedy…sort of.   

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