The American President is a 1995 romantic drama directed by Rob Reiner (in his first film after the infamous North) and written by Aaron Sorkin, starring Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Michael J. Fox, and Martin Sheen. These days it is most noted for being basically a dress rehearsal for Sorkin's later TV series The West Wing, which included a number of the same actors, albeit in different parts.US President Andrew Shepherd (Douglas), previously the governor of Wisconsin and a widower/single father, is on top of the world as the movie starts. His poll numbers are excellent, and together with his staff, which includes Chief of Staff A. J. MacInerney (Sheen) and Lewis Rothschild (Fox), he is planning to pass a major new crime bill. However, things change when he meets Sydney Ellen Wade (Bening), an environmental lobbyist who has been hired to push for new legislation. After the typical Meet Cute, Shepherd asks her out, and they begin dating, which of course draws major media interest.This also grabs the attention of Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss), who has an eye to challenging Shepherd in the next election, and wants to use his relationship with Sydney to drag the President through the mud. This calls into question Shepard's previous "family man" reputation and his professional judgement as the "most powerful man on Earth."Features typically strong dialogue from Aaron Sorkin and good performances all around.
Tropes featured include:
Adorkable: Pres. Shephard may be the most powerful man in the world but he is also just a guy who wants to win the heart of the girl he likes and basically can't stop smiling the first time he meets her. (And he gets in a great line concerning the tag of "the most powerful man in the world" while professing he's nervous about the sex they're about to have)
Sydney herself can be pretty adorkable. She flip-flops back and forth from badass lobbyist who doesn't take crap from anyone to giggly schoolgirl.
Robin McCall: How do you want me to handle the Sydney issue?
President Andrew Shepherd: "The Sydney issue"?
Lewis Rothschild: We should have a consensus on how the White House is going to handle it.
President Andrew Shepherd: Well I sure hope the Sydney issue refers in some way to a problem we're having with Australia, because if it's anything else-
Burning the Flag: Bob Rumson attempts to smear Shepherd with a picture of Sydney burning an American flag during a late-'80s anti-apartheid demonstration. (Presumably they were demonstrating against US inaction or something to that effect.)
Contractual Purity: An In-Universe version where Shepard and Wade try to experience a relatively normal, adult relationship but the massive media attention skews it to where Wade is a "whore" and Shepard is taking her as his mistress. Shepard explains the trope as such in his final speech.
Deadpan Snarker: It's a film written by Aaron Sorkin, so needless to say, EVERYONE is this.
Emotional Regression: Shepard has been out of the dating loop for a long time, so his attempts at learning about Sydney come across as high school-ish. Lampshaded by A.J. "I could pass her a note before study hall."
Everybody Calls Him Barkeep: Much to his chagrin, everyone calls Shepherd "Mr. President", including close friends playing pool in private.
This is actually the central theme of the movie: Are Andrew Shepherd and the President of the United States two seperate entities, or are they one and the same? And being the President, does Andrew have any right or expectation of a private life?
Expy: Most of the major characters are embryonic versions of the cast of Sorkin's The West Wing, which makes watching it an interesting experience for fans of the show. For instance:
Friendly Address Privileges: Defied Trope: A.J. consistently calls Andrew "Mr. President" even when they're alone, despite them having been the best of friends for years. (When Andrew calls him out on this once, he delivers his reply in the form of a Shout-Out to Dr. Seuss.)
A.J.: Nice shot, Mr. President.
Andrew: "Nice shot, Mr. President"?! You won't even call me by my name when we're playing pool?
A.J.: I will not do it playing pool. I will not do it in a school. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them. Sam—
Andrew: At ease, AJ. At ease!
Gilligan Cut: When the amount of coverage starts to heat up, Sydney goes to the White House, telling her sister that she plans to end their relationship. She ends up consummating it instead.
Mood Whiplash: After Andrew and Sydney consumate their relationship, a montage follows of the media pouncing all over the pair, as their dating starts dropping his approval numbers and Rumson begins to gain momentum by dragging their relationship through the mud.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: Sen. Rumson is pretty obviously based on Bob Dole. Shepherd and his staff are likewise heavily based on various people in the Clinton Administration.
Production Posse: Sorkin's "good luck charm" Joshua Malina has his usual small role, along with a bunch of other actors who would pop up in later Sorkin projects, including Martin Sheen (A. J./President Bartlet), Anna Deavere Smith (Robin McCall/NSA Nancy McNally), and Nina Siemaszko (Beth Wade/Ellie Bartlet).
Reality Subtext: This film was made during the Clinton administration, when two main criticisms of the then-president concerned Hillary Clinton's influence in presidential matters, and about Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs.
Right Behind Me: During her initial meeting with A.J. MacInerny, Sydney Wade verbally tears into President Shepherd for his refusal to give her environmental group's cause as much support as they want. Midway through her rant, Shepherd quietly enters the room and stands behind her, introducing himself only when she finishes. Later, though, when she apologizes to him, he takes it all in stride, reminding her that being viciously criticized like that is all a part of his job as President.
Rousing Speech: The climax is Shepherd delivering one of these. And an awesome one at that.
Running Gag: Andrew has a very difficult time being President and personally buying flowers for Sydney. He finally manages it by having the roses picked from the White House garden.
Sarcastic Confession: Not done on purpose, but when Shepard introduces himself over the phone to Wade she doesn't believe him. She then proceeds to mock him, figuring he was a friend pulling a prank. Shepard then gives her the White House number with his extension in order to convince her.
Sex for Services: Bob Rumson implies during a talk show appearance that Sydney may have traded sexual favors for votes.
Think of the Children!: Of course some pundit tries to paint Andrew's daughter into a victim, when really she likes Sydney and has encouraged her Dad to pursue a relationship with her all along.
What Could Have Been: In an earlier draft of the script, right before his Rousing Speech, Shepherd is having breakfast with Lucy, and he finally finds out the reason why she doesn't speak up in Social Studies; she doesn't agree with a lot of what Shepherd says politically - in fact, she finds herself agreeing with Senator Rumson on some things - and she doesn't want to say so in class, because she doesn't want to embarrass Shepherd. Shepherd is stunned by this, and tells her she'll never embarrass him, and he's her father first and the President second. This scene combines both Author Catchphrase (Shepherd tells Lucy, "The only thing you have to do to make me happy is come home at the end of the day", which Sorkin re-used on Sports Night and The West Wing) and an Ironic Echo (Shepherd unwittingly quotes one of Sydney's lines to Lucy), the latter of which leads to a Eureka Moment that leads to the Rousing Speech. It's not clear if the scene was never filmed, or was filmed and never used.
Also in that same draft, at the end, Shepherd makes up with Lewis, Lucy gives her father back his old Social Studies book, which is open to the part of the Constitution that allows for State of the Union speeches, and A.J. calls Shepherd "Andy". Sorkin reworked the first two parts onto The West Wing.
"World of Cardboard" Speech: Shepard's final speech where he addresses the whole controversy and admits his own faults both in his relationship with Sydney and with the stance he needed to make with policies and bills as the President.