Potato Dreams of America is available on special edition Blu-Ray in the United States from 28th June and arrives on DVD in the United Kingdom on 22nd August.
“There’s always been this dark cloud that follows me around wherever I go.”
“That’s not a cloud, mum; that’s grandma!”
Sometimes a film comes along that steals your heart within the first twenty minutes through its sheer creativity. Potato Dreams of America is one of those rare LGBTQ+ comedy gems. Here we are offered a delightfully sweet, funny and eccentric fantasia as we follow a mother and son as they escape a crumbling Soviet Union for the lure and promise of an American dream built on TV shows and movies. Here writer and director Wes Hurley (born Vasili Naumenko) offers us a hilarious autobiographical satire that at times echoes the work of John Waters.
Potato (Hersh Powers/Tyler Bocock) and his mother, Lena (Sera Barbieri/Marya Sea Kaminski), live in Vladivostok, Russia. Potato’s Mom is a doctor in the local prison, while his loving, judgmental and nationalistic grandmother (Lea DeLaria) runs a police museum. While his mum worries about state oppression, his gran worries about her daughter finding a new husband and her grandson being beaten senseless when he goes into national service. Unlike his gran, Potato (yes, that’s a nickname) isn’t too fond of his country, and that feeling is only intensified by the bullying he receives at school and the dawning realisation he might be gay. But at least Potato has a friend in Jesus – quite literally, as he brought Jesus home from school to answer all his burning questions!
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As Potato’s mum dreams of escape amid all the blackouts, food shortages and state-controlled TV, she decides to register with a dating agency that links Russian women with American men. Through a series of letters, Lena meets John (Dan Laria), and as things get worse at home, it finally looks like her prayers have been answered when John proposes marriage. But as Potato and his mum begin their new life in America, John may not be the stable influence they need in a new country.
Potato Dreams of America is a film of two halves, each stylistically different. The first half focuses on Potato’s childhood and is theatrical in construct. Here we have sets that move, random song and dance routines, mime and a TV-loving Jesus who doubles as a rather naff guidance counsellor. Within this first half, Potato Dreams of America hits its unconventional stride with a screenplay so full of memorable quotes that my pen couldn’t keep up.
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However, the second half opts to take a different approach by embracing a classic 90s teen comedy-drama aesthetic. This split is a stroke of genius, as Potato and his mum suddenly become a part of the American TV shows and films they watched in Russia while feeling disconnected from the dream due to their language barrier. Here Hurley’s movie becomes unique in the landscape of coming-out comedies as it becomes a film within a film that takes us from Potato’s childhood dreams to the realities of immigrant life in a country that sells an image of prosperity and freedom. Here Potato’s journey allows him to embrace his sexual orientation while learning that oppressive ideologies haunt every country and the delicate freedom they offer.
Potato Dreams of America is a delightful LGBTQ+ indie gem with enjoyable and engaging performances throughout. Here love and hope shine through the darker themes of oppression and discrimination, creating one of the best LGBTQ+ coming-out comedies of the past three years. While it may not always maintain the eccentricity of the first half, it’s one of the most creative slices of LGBTQ+ comedy I have seen in a long time, one that left me with a huge smile and a warm, comforting glow.
Potato Dreams of America is a delightful LGBTQ+ indie gem. Here love and hope shine through, creating one of the best LGBTQ+ coming-out comedies of the past three years.