POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA was a wonderfully uplifting and utterly bizarre tale
POTATO DREAMS OF AMERICA (SXSW 2021)
An autobiographical dark comedy about a young boy growing up in the collapsing USSR, Potato dreams of one day making it to America to become a filmmaker with his mother.
Written and directed by Wes Hurley about his childhood, Hurley is able to nail multiple tones and creates a film of two halves that fit perfectly together. The first half of the film is incredibly farcical and silly, leaning all the way in through its use of vignettes; it has a play-like feel and an over the top tone.
In the second half we have a more serious vibe with even the sound and colours feeling more muted than before, but still keeping the level of whimsy running throughout, tying it to the earlier half. Hurley does a wonderful job at telling his story and keeping the pace running fluidly through his bigger-than-life characters and plot points.
Based on a true story, Potato and his mother live for American movies and hope to leave the USSR to get away from his overbearing grandmother and a potential future in the armed forces. When she signs up to be a mail order bride, they head to Seattle to take on the American Dream and learn that sometimes real life is even stranger than the cinema.
Split in two between the USSR and Seattle, the plot moves briskly, giving us delightful insight into writer Hurley’s real-life struggles and experiences. Based on a true story, you may need to take some elements with a pinch of salt, but this feels honest and sentimental; the beating heart of the film flowing throughout.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
It’s a perfect cast with unbeatable chemistry. Both Potato and his mother are played by two actors which switch when they arrive in Seattle, but each side of the coin matches up perfectly and the sudden switch feels exactly right. The relationship between Potato and his mother is what pushes this film above others. Their relationship is so lovely and propels each plot point further, with both actresses (Sera Barbieri and Marya Sea Kaminski) imbuing pure warmth and care in every scene they share with their son.
I would be remiss not to also shout out Jonathan Bennett who plays the role of Jesus. He is stunning, camp, and has comedic perfection in his scenes. As a girl who grew up Catholic but also obsessed with Mean Girls, I had some confusing feelings during his scenes.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Flamboyant at times and sombre in others, the visual design of the film perfectly matches Potato’s imagination, showing us not just the life he led, but how writer/director Hurley now looks back upon the times. Use of cheap theatre style sets and props in the first half make the whole piece feel larger than life.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
There’s some brilliant music, especially in the latter half of the film as karaoke becomes a surprisingly important plot development. It’s an upbeat, fun filled playlist - though I have to side with Potato’s mother, karaoke is awful and a menace to society!
Potato Dreams of America was a wonderfully uplifting and utterly bizarre tale that I couldn’t help but to be charmed by. Well crafted, beautifully acted, and brilliantly told, Hurley has shared his story, struggles and all, in the perfect way.