In his new film satirist Ken Finkleman casts his net to include everything from gun toting evangelicals and reality TV stars to government paranoia and corporate shenanigans. By the time the final credits roll though one question remains, Can you parody a culture that has already fallen into self-parody?
“#AnAmericanDream” looks to “Candide,” a French satire first published in 1759 by Voltaire, as a basis for its jaundiced look at life. Like the character Candide, when we first meet William Bowman (Jake Croker) he’s living a sheltered life. William is a college football star thrust into adulthood, and all the hardships that entails, after a concussion sidelines his athletic career.
He lands on his feet at a high-flying Wall Street company, only to be knocked down when his investment firm is taken over. Next up, he becomes a travelling salesman, selling religious books door to door to churches and libraries. When that implodes in a hail of gunfire he sets off on a journey that sees him involved in a public execution, a government cover-up and a fugitive as the star of a reality show called “Dead Man Running.”
Like “Candide” “#AnAmericanDream” pokes the bear, taking shots at religion, government and the military industrial complex. It’s an erratic, fantastical ride presented in Finkleman’s trademarked matter-of-fact style. When the going gets gonzo the director keeps a steady pace, punting William from one escapade to the next. The sheer volume of allegory and adventure is head spinning but when broken down into individual elements are eerie and timely. A snarky millennial newscaster puts us in the mind of Tomi Lahren while a televised execution feels like an episode of “Fear Factor” gone wild.
In our Fake News/Post Truth Era, however, these satirical components feel less tongue-in-cheek and more like a scary peek into the near future. It’s hard to know if Finkleman has made a movie that serves as a warning or as a comment on where we are today. This timeliness and familiarity blunts some of the film’s impact. Call it post-satire. Call it whatever you like, but in an age where former right-wing messiah Alex Jones can keep a straight face and claim his messages weren’t real, that they were just performance art, a movie like “#AnAmericanDream” feels less game-changing than it needs to be.