The Dream






      Director: Gary Ross

      Writer: Gary Ross

      Studio: Universal Pictures

      Starring: Tobey Maguire, Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), Tom Smith (Chris Cooper), Elizabeth Banks, Gary Stevens, William H. Macy, Kingston DuCoeur, Eddie Jones, Ed Lauter



      Director: Jeffrey Blitz



Review by Jade Sharma 


My boss says to me today, "You know what the only free thing in this country is? I say, "What's that?" He says, "The only goddamn free thing in this country is to pay your rent. It's free to pay your rent, that's all these bastards let you get way with anymore."


Although my boss, a middle aged artist from a working class background in Detroit, who makes art out of garbage is not a fair representation of the general public. He does convey a popular sentiment, that to put it bluntly, that America well, kind of, sucks. There's a lot to gripe about, you can choose among the following: economic hardship, vast unemployment, blackouts, ban on smoking, Iraq, George W. Bush, on which ever scale, local or international, problems are plentiful. If you are complaining today in America, odds are the person listening to you is nodding in agreement and chiming in with their own grievances.


It is true that America is in need of a collective self-esteem boast, where can they look? The movies, in particular two films have come out, to help America feel a little bit better about herself. Seabiscuit, is a tale of horse, a jockey, and the owner of a horse, defying all odds and ending up on top. It is set in the depression, another time when Americans had a lot to gripe about. It opens with the hard luck story of the jockey, Red Pollard (Tobey Maquire)whose parents were forced to give him up, because they didn't have any money. Then through twists and turns, on thing leading to another, his life is intertwined with Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) who is going through his own hard times. He has just lost a child, and his marriage has ended. We meet him as he is finds his new wife, and decides he wants to buy a horse to race. As he wanders prospective trainers, he stumbles upon the eccentric recluse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper). Cooper spots Seabiscuit, and is convinced the horse will be winner, despite its lazy nature and small body. So finally the team is formed, each of which their own problems to overcome: the horse (1.too small, 2.tempermental), the jockey (1.too big, 2.bitter, 3.attitude problem), the owner (1.death of child), and the washed up trainer. If it sounds a bit over the top and formulaic, well, that's because it is.


It is "one of those" movies. It even sounds like "one of those movies." It has one of those generic intrusive scores, if you close your eyes, you will know what to feel because it uses that same score that has been in Hollywood movies for the past decade. It's the most awful, annoying attribute of the film, it feels as though someone is poking telling you, "feel this way", "now feel this way." This film is one of those big guy v.little guy. A team with everything against them overcomes (I.E. The Mighty Ducks). What makes it a little more interesting is the character of William H.Macy who plays a radio journalist covering the horse racing, his fresh snippy banter throughout this movie, add a much needed touch of wit and cleverness. Also there are passages in the film, small little history lessons in black and white interwoven depicting the changing time of America in it's journey toward modernity. Despite that, it is your basic hard luck boys overcoming the obstacles. So why is it so popular?


I saw it in a theatre in upstate New York; the audience's median age was about 60, and white. There was applause all through it. Afterwards I was standing in the lobby waiting for my friend, when a 70 year old white woman, with an almost teary eyed smile on her face, turned to me, and said, "Wasn't that just wonderful?" I nodded in agreement. And she began telling me about how her husband had read the book. She said, it was the best movie she had seen in a long time. That Hollywood had finally made a movie that she liked.


It was then I realized this movie was more like a photo album to her, it wasn't just the actual time period, that she was nostalgic for, the depression is a time I don't think most people want to re-live, but of the feeling that America offered. A time when things were changing, printing presses, the assembly line, and the feelings of opportunity these changes evoked in the American spirit. The feeling that if you worked hard and you had experienced your due of hard times, you would eventually be successful. The American Dream. But for people in my generation, there is no nostalgia for that time. The whole time I was watching it from a multi-cultural, historical perspective. I kept thinking where are the black people? Are they being lynched? I think that's why young people, are more apt to be cynical about this film. The American Dream may have always been a myth, for the every one of the immigrants who came here with a quarter in there pocket who became wealthy, there were thousands that didn't. But it was the possibility of the dream.


For all of you cynical Americans who feel that that dream has died, check out Jeffrey Blitz's documentary, "Spellbound", which chronicles eight kids hoping to win the National Spelling bee. Blitz's subjects are as diverse as they get: suburban kids, city kids, rich kids, poor kids, and kids of different races. What all these kids have in common, is there desire to be the National Bee Champion, though at least in one case it seemed the parents wanted it more so.


The first part of the film is portraits of each of the kids. First there was Angela, from Texas, who's parents immigrated her ill legally. Neither her mother or father speak English, though when she wins the regional spelling bee, her father is so proud he cries. Her brother articulates that this is the reason his father came to America, to provide better education for his kids.


There is also Neil, a second generation America, who's parents are from India. It seems his father is the driving force of Neil's participation in the Spelling Bee. Neil's father has hired tutors to teach him French and Spanish, so he knows how to break down words from these languages. He goes over 7,000 words with him a day. Neil's father, says in the film, that if you work hard in America you are guaranteed to succeed, this he says is not true of other countries.


There is also Ashley who is from the ghetto in D.C, who memorizes words out of the dictionary, and Nupar who's a upper middle class Indian American.


The second half of this film is the actual spelling bee, where you see the kids compete, which makes you feel as nervous as the parents are when you watch it. Blitz shows each kid spelling each word, each participant hesitantly utters each letter, taking deep breaths, nervously looking around. This is what makes it so suspenseful. One by one you see each kid fall round by round, till one is declared the winner.


The National Spelling Bee, epitomizes the American Dream. Any of these kids can win, they all have an equal chance, no matter where they're from or what they look like. Although luck does come into play, if you work hard, you will win.


Jeffrey Blitz got this movie made by acquiring twelve credit cards, and charged the entire production. This is part of the sentiment of the American Dream: risk. He risked his financial safety on his product. The whole movie was shot on DV, which only adds to its authentic feel.


Seabiscuit is a formulaic predictable Hollywood "feel good" piece of propaganda to make you feel better about America. While Spellbound is a quirky honest look of the wrestling human heart of the American dream in all its beautiful hopeful glory.