Peter Dinklage sabotages himself in an austere comedy-drama [Tribeca]

Peter Dinklage plays a great misanthrope. That’s right – he has the perfect face for it, so expressive and able to convey all the tortured emotions his character goes through. And Phil is quite the misanthrope, a perpetually unhappy cynic who goes through life as if the world is after him. In some ways, it is; we learn through painful interactions with Phil’s “friends”, as well as the interstitial glimpses of his ongoing short story, that he was an orphan who bounced from foster home to foster home. That’s why he’s always dreamed of owning his own house – even though that pipe dream has earned him the mockery of Dell who, despite his skepticism about Phil’s ability to afford a house, helps him with it. the deal that lands Phil the house of his dreams. With Dinklage’s incredible talent as a performer, it should be easy to sympathize with Phil, especially since that perfect match falls apart, right?

The problem is that Phil is also an idiot. You’d think, as a Harvard economics professor, he’d ponder that wacky deal that lets him live in an upstairs apartment of a big house, waiting for the owner of the house to die. But it’s not until he moves in that he realizes that the landlady, Astrid, isn’t as decrepit as they made out, or as alone in the world. In fact, she’s vigorous and healthy, bustling around the house with a glass of wine in hand, or around the perfectly manicured yard with shears in hand. And she is frequently visited by an army of her children, one of whom is a beautiful lawyer (Kimberly Quinn) who is immediately at odds with Phil. It’s clear that Phil has been scammed or misled in some way, and he reacts in the worst way possible: by sneaking into Astrid’s house and hiring a detective. private, getting all kinds of scratches (along with more broken glass and more grumpy sexual exploits than one would expect a normal person to encounter) that lead to him becoming increasingly hurt and disillusioned .

It’s a bizarre premise that only gets worse as the movie progresses, which becomes a problem because the tone of “American Dreamer” doesn’t get any less austere. In fact, he seems to embrace all of Phil’s cynical worldview, which makes the movie more boring to watch as it goes on. Which is a shame, because there are moments of wit and bubbly humor that hint at a better movie tucked away here – one that better uses Dinklage’s talents and one that takes a less hilarious, simplistic take on women – if only the script by Theodore Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) could have been touched up a bit. And director Paul Dektor, who is making his directorial debut, seems at a loss with the film, occasionally adding stylistic touches that feel distinctive enough to live up to the film’s “dark comedy” label – a fantasy. strange here, a solid understanding of the color palette to reflect the mood there – but it all gets a bit muddled and broad.

Dinklage and Dillon are fun to watch, especially when on screen together, and there’s the occasional funny appearance of Danny Pudi as Phil’s colleague, but the central relationship between Dinklage’s Phil and MacLaine’s Astrid looks half cooked. Dinklage does his best and, for the first hour of the film, almost makes “American Dreamer” worth a painful, gritty comedy. But “American Dreamer” seems unwilling to embrace the sentimentality its title suggests, instead lying in irony that keeps audiences at bay.

/Movie rating: 5 out of 10

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