The HoloFiles

REVIEW: American Dreamer

By George & Josh Bate

American Dreamer review

Peter Dinklage plays downtrodden and distressed like no other. Never far from a cup of wine and always equipped with a snarky one-liner or two, his character Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones was the epitome of annoyed and fed up. But, underneath this outward portrayal, Dinklage managed to bring a unique inner vulnerability and heart to Tyrion that few actors can do. Dinklage leans into similar acting sensibilities in American Dreamer, a new film debuting in select theaters and on demand this March.

American Dreamer, based on a (sort of) true story, follows Phil Loder (played by Dinklage), a frustrated economics professor with the dream of owning a grand house for himself. Amidst a life full of mundanity and disheartenment, Phil’s fortunes seem to change when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presents itself. An elderly woman named Astrid Finnelli (played by Shirley MacLaine) is selling her sprawling mansion for a shocking bargain price that Phil can’t help but buy. Unfortunately, what initially seems like the actualization of his American dream becomes too good to be true.

American Dreamer review

Best categorized as a dramedy or light-hearted drama, American Dreamer is a film that doesn’t strain its audience with a complicated plot nor heavy emotions. What you see is what you get, which makes for a refreshingly streamlined and light tale. The film is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but its quirkiness, largely attributable to the lead performances of Dinklage and MacLaine, is certainly something to admire and makes for enjoyable viewing. An apt and admittedly obscure comparison is The Estate, the 2022 black comedy starring Toni Collette and David Duchovny; both films have heightened elements and plenty of humor worthy of light-chuckling, while never putting too much pressure on its audience.

This humor and light-heartedness comes from a variety of sources in a story full of characters and subplots. Matt Dillon plays Phil’s only ‘friend,’ a real-estate agent who isn’t afraid to voice his frustration when Dinklage’s Phil tries to scupper real-estate details. There’s also Craig, a professor at Phil’s college played by Community’s Daniel Pudi who has been helping Phil secure a coveted parking pass for three years. Also at the college is a graduate student with a romantic interest in Phil played by Michelle Mylett. Meanwhile, the legendary Danny Glover plays a private investigator who is a little too good at his job. Kimberly Quinn plays one of Astrid’s adult children, who is an obstacle to Phil securing the house. How interesting these different subplots prove to be varies character-to-character, but, overall, they each add a unique flavor to the proceedings.

American Dreamer review

Tonally similar films like Little Miss Sunshine reach greater depths of endearment than American Dreamer, however. Although the third act comes with several stark changes in characters’ relationships that pull at the heartstrings, the film is never quite as heartfelt as it could be. At the core of its story is Dinklage’s Phil and MacLaine’s Astrid. Astrid has sold her massive house to Phil under the condition that she still gets to live in the house until she dies. A relationship that is initially wrought with difficulties eventually and inevitably becomes warmer, although never quite to the emotional heights its promising premise and cast suggest.

This difficulty succeeding as a heartfelt tale comes about largely as a result of a script (written by Hidden Figures’ Theodore Melfi) with a penchant for tonal inconsistencies and sudden changes in characters’ emotions and motivations. So quickly do Phil and Astrid change their feelings about one another that the third act intended to evoke much warmth and emotion feels unearned. None of this is to say that the film lacks a heart entirely as there is certainly something endearing about it. Unfortunately, just never enough to really deliver an emotional gut-punch.

American Dreamer review

Carrying the film forward despite its issues is the ever-reliable Peter Dinklage. Dinklage proves once again that he is one of the more quietly compelling actors working today as he delivers a genuinely funny, understated performance laced with an undercurrent of vulnerability. The incredible Shirley MacLaine also impresses as the antagonist of sorts to Dinklage’s character. MacLaine demonstrates just why she has had such an enduring career in the film industry as she always manages to grab one’s attention with her biting line delivery, even when the film lacks a certain spark.


American Dreamer may not reach the potential its impressive cast and promising premise suggest, but there’s still plenty to admire about this light-hearted dramedy. Peter Dinklage brings a performance that evokes some of the qualities that made Tyrion Lannister such a compelling character, while the legendary Shirley MacLaine offers a necessary jolt to the proceedings. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud funny nor tear-inducingly heartfelt, yet the film’s easiness and simplicity make for a refreshingly streamlined viewing experience.

American Dreamer is in select theaters and on demand March 8, 2024

Check out the trailer for American Dreamer below.

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