"Potato Dreams of America" Couldn't Be Lovelier
Walls come down, walls go up, but there's always an 80s movie to play.
Giving new meaning to the term “pop culture,” Potato Dreams of America features a scene that doesn’t just define the yearning for a better tomorrow but articulates the awkwardness of sexual awakenings, and how when it happens, it’s never really the “perfect” time, but always the “right” time. The film has over-the-moon imagination, and is as adorable as it is hysterical.
The scene I reference involves an action movie, and while that action movie is not the classic Commando, I do want to write a bit about it here.
No matter how many times that movie pops in my mind, I always think of the video about an African boy named Alex who retells the story of the film, with the kind of excitement that I wish I had when watching Rise of Skywalker for the first time. His enthusiasm is so infectious that it puts Schwarzenegger and the whole 80s catalog of rah-rah USA ass-kicking flicks into another stratosphere of thought. Why have these movies maintained such influence after all of these decades? What was it about the 1980s that just… just endures?
Potato is the tale of another boy, one from Russia nicknamed Potato, who too is enthusiastic about American movies and who too has quite a personality. He bucks authority, he’s bluntly honest and would love a color TV set. He lives at the tail end of the Soviet era, where uncertainty and hope could both be felt at any given time. The film distinguishes itself interestingly by not having the actors in the Russian portion of the story speak with an accent and, to another level, by using alternate actors for Potato and his mother when they eventually move to America - who do speak with an accent. In that portion, Potato is a shy teenager, whereas before he was a precocious pre-teen. Interesting, and we will learn exactly why this was done by the end.
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Until we get there, Potato Dreams of America is like a wonderfully dreamy Michel Gondry film remixed by Guy Maddin. Double the dreaming, double the trouble. Things are certainly more bizarre-ish and different when Potato is a kid in Russia than when he’s a teen in America, by which I mean this as an American observer. Things feel more natural and dare I type “normal” once he hits the United States. But of course I’d type that - I’ve never left this country. Perhaps instead of going from weird to normal for us, it’s the other way around for Potato.
Not perhaps. That’s exactly what’s going on.
Everything and everyone in this movie has such wonderful strength and confidence at heart, from the design and composition of sets and scenes to the performances by different actors of the same characters. Potato Dreams of America is a jewel of modern independent cinema, and a funny if very tender movie about finding comfort in the home and in oneself.
There’s a scene that gives new meaning to the term “pop culture” when Potato, sitting next to Jesus Christ on a couch, watches a pirated Jean-Claude Van Damme film on his static-y black and white Russian TV set for the first time, and discovers his sexuality in a moment of confusion and excitement.
Maybe that’s the key to the 1980s.
Potato Dreams of America is now available on VOD.