There are times when you read a film synapsis and you just know there is going to be something special about it. There is an equal amount of intrigue and ridiculousness attached, and your curiosity wants to jump head first into viewing. Dear Dictator was exactly what I hoped it would be. The writing and director team of Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse captured the perfect mismatch of rebellious teen comedy and political farce.
As part of a Social Studies project, Tatiana (Odeya Rush) must write a letter to an influential figure she admires. In true rebel fashion, she decides to write to loathsome dictator General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine). The friendship grows based on their shared distrust of the world around them, and when General Anton is ousted due to a coup d’etat he seeks refuge in the only place he feels safe, suburban Savannah with Tatiana.
The initial connection between these two characters is set up from the very beginning, in one of the most fun openings in a teen comedy. The audience understands what type of movie Dear Dictator is and we are thankful for it. The tone early on means that you know you’rr in for an entertaining ride. This doesn’t change the fact, however, that the film still is full of surprises.
One of the best surprises is how wonderful Caine is in this film. Most film goers can list off a handful of his films within seconds, with each one consisting of a smooth and debonair character. Even as deplorable dictator, Caine finds a way to be awkward and oblivious in Dear Dictator. A tyrannical character like this not only adds humor but also a new dimension to the film, as well as Caine himself. It’s an interesting take on a character like this, yet it doesn’t make what he’s doing in his home country any less horrible. It’s a nice balance, one that you can sense Addario and Syracuse spent respectful time on to get right.
There is an element of playing with perception, what we assume to be reality when it’s quite often just a skewed version of the truth. There are several characters who are self-absorbed, and when that’s addressed it brings about new perceptions of the world around them. This is not limited to the suburban life of Tatitana with her mother Darlene (Katie Holmes) or the complicated relationship she has with her friend Denny (Jackson Beard), but also with Anton and his place in the world. It happens in a ridiculous fashion, but never for too long. Our inner demons and heroines are also present, even if we try to package them in conflicting containers.
The splendor of modern-day teen movies like Dear Dictator is the evolution they present in the genre. There will always be elements of the heart-warming films that solidified the genre from the 80s, but they also allow for modernization into our crazy world of the 21st century. It sounds like it should be an easy creation, but in reality finding that balance between homage and contemporary isn’t an easy equilibrium to be found. That’s what’s so enjoyable about this film.
Yet, the satisfaction isn’t just about the well-advancing story, it’s also in the actors themselves. We’ve already mentioned how brilliant Caine is in this off-kilter role, but I also have to mention the supporting adult characters. Growing up in the 90s, my teen soul mates have been portrayed by Holmes, Seth Green, and Jason Biggs, and its great to see them in teen comedies again. They do add an element that ties multiple generations to this film, but they also know how to handle a well-done teen film. For this audience member, it was a nice nod to where we have been and where we might be headed.
Dear Dictator is not your typical teen comedy, and deserves proper attention as a great film. Under the surface there are elements of finding the truth within yourself and not being afraid to express that, but also a healthy dose of comedic charade. It’s not hard to have fun with this film, and in our current state they are a blessing.
Dear Dictator is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 24th.
Written by Lisa Mejia
Images provided by Cinedigm