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. Writer and director Wes Hurley (born Vasili Naumenko) offers us a hilarious autobiographical satire that frequently 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 the local 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, a feeling 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!
As Potato’s mum dreams of escape amid all the blackouts, food shortages and fragmenting state control, 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.
Potato Dreams of America is a film of two distinct parts, each stylistically and narratively different. The first part focuses on Potato’s childhood and is theatrical in its construction with 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 takes a different approach by embracing a classic US 90s teen comedy 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 remaining disconnected from the dream due to the language barrier. It is here that Hurley’s movie becomes unique in the landscape of LGBTQ+ 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 often false image of prosperity and freedom. Potato’s journey allows him to embrace his sexual orientation while also learning that oppressive ideologies haunt every country.
Potato Dreams of America is a delightful LGBTQ+ indie gem where love and hope shine through the darker narrative themes of oppression and discrimination. 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.
HAM: A MUSICAL MEMOIR
Based on his 2014 autobiography HAM: Slices of a Life, broadway star Sam Harris brings his collection of personal essays to the stage in a delightful, funny and touching one-person show. Here his journey from the Bible Belt of Oklahoma to the Broadway stage is full of colour, heartfelt emotion and glitter, exploring themes of self-acceptance, oppression and escape. While British audiences may not know Sam Harris as well as our US cousins, that does not distract from the sheer talent of his one-person show or the electricity, emotion and joy on display in this honey-glazed and sweet slice of theatre.
BEFORE I CHANGE MY MIND
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.