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‘American Dreamer’: Comedian Jim Gaffigan Defies Expectations as Anti-hero and Leading Man



Deep waters run Dark in Ride-share Dramedy

Looking at the poster for the new movie “American Dreamer,” one might immediately assume that it is a lighthearted comedy. Even watching the trailer, you may find yourself waiting for it to turn comedic and for the premise of a down-on-his-luck rideshare driver to crack a joke and become burlesque.

However, the laughs never come, and instead of becoming lighter, the tone grows darker. Suddenly, you realize that “American Dreamer” is not a comedy at all, but a suspenseful thriller about drugs, kidnapping, and domestic drama.

Our initial expectations of humor in “American Dreamer” are due to the fact that the movie stars Jim Gaffigan, a renowned stand-up comedian who is best known for his self-deprecating stage presence as a buffoonish and lazy glutton. His most recognizable jokes are about food, he has written a book titled “Dad Is Fat,” and his current tour is called the “Secrets and Pies Tour.”

Gaffigan became a household name in 2005 when he released the hit comedy album “Beyond the Pale,” which features his famous “Hot Pockets” bid. Gaffigan’s success as a comedian has since earned him many roles as an actor. He has appeared in numerous movies and headlined his own sitcom titled “The Jim Gaffigan Show” on TV Land. All of these roles are relaxed and cheerful. For the most part, they just have the recognizable stand-up playing the same persona that he depicts on stage. 

“American Dreamer” is something different, though. In it, Gaffigan plays the leading man, but the movie’s tone offers close-to-no comedic relief. Gaffigan’s character, Cam is a tragic father figure, a desperate divorced parent struggling to pay child-support. In order to make ends meet, Cam eventually starts chauffeuring a drug dealer around town.

From here, it looks like “American Dreamer” is taking a page directly from Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” or TV shows like “Breaking Bad” and “Ozark,” employing the trope of average, but helpless people getting involved in the dangerous world of drug trafficking. Already, this is pretty sinister and uncharted territory for Gaffigan, but the plot only becomes more ominous when Cam kidnaps the drug dealer’s child for ransom, making him an undisputed anti-hero.

For the rest of the film, we are in a state of dramatic irony, as the drug dealer is trusting Cam to transport him while he tries to figure out what happened to his son. Little does he know that the culprit is actually right in front of him, right in the driver’s seat.

Clearly, the movie provides an opportunity for Gaffigan to play a new kind of character and branch out from his type-casted routine. Unfortunately, early reviews of the film have not been flattering, calling it clichéd and flat. However, despite their complaints about the movie as a whole, most critics have been relatively satisfied with Gaffigan’s performance.

Other than the leading comedian, “American Dreamer” touts a pretty novice cast and crew. German filmmaker Derrick Borte directed “American Dreamer,” and the decision to cast Gaffigan can perhaps be attributed to him along with producer Scott Floyd Lochmus and casting director Matthew Messinger. Actors Robbie Jones, Isabel Arraiza, and Tammy Blanchard co-star alongside Gaffigan. Overall, there are very few recognizable names attached to the project, not to mention the extensive list of indie studios behind the film—Saban Films, Storyland Pictures, XYZ Films, and Sugar Studios LA to name a few.

No Free Rides, Ever

At the end of the day, though, it may still be difficult to see a man that is known for innocent Hot Pocket and bacon jokes play such a complicated and immoral character. Going back to the movie’s mere poster, it is hard to look at a picture of Jim Gaffigan starring intensely at the camera and take it seriously, even (and perhaps especially) when he is surrounded by flames above the punny tagline “There Are No Free Rides.” 

Given the persona that Jim Gaffigan is associated with, “American Dreamer’s” intensity could read as ironic, and familiar audiences may always be fighting an impulse to laugh at it. This makes it all the more difficult for Gaffigan’s character to come off as authentic. And the most tragic aspect of all this is that the comedian may really be a capable of playing diverse roles, but if this debut for him flops, even if it is for reasons beyond his control, it may restrict him to playing the funnyman for the rest of his career.

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