Potato Dreams of America is a Winning and Charming Film

Posted by Greg on Mar 24, 2021 in Movies |

Potato Dreams of America: Back To Russia from Catherine Joy on Vimeo.

We’re still trying to process and review all of the films we saw as part of SXSW’s 2021 Film Festival. However as the more time passes the more we’re beginning to realize that might be a tall order. There is one film though we’re quick to review and recommend: Potato Dreams of America.

When we first saw the title we were convinced this was a movie about the Ireland potato famine of 1845. Alas, we couldn’t be more wrong if we tried. Potato Dreams of America is actually an autobiographical, coming-of-age comedic narrative about Potato (Hersh Powers), a gay grade-school kid living with his single mother Lena (Sera Barbieri) in post-Communist Russia. Ever the oddball and nonconformist Potato yearns for a better life for him and his mother. That wish is fully realized when Potato’s bold and determined mother becomes a mail order bride for a lonely widower named John in the Pacific Northwest. A staunch Christian, John (Dan Lauria) challenges Potato and his mother to live deeply in their faith. How exactly all of that plays out is what makes the film so compelling, charming and worth the 90 minutes.

Using an aesthetic style that is eerily similar to that of Wes Anderson, writer/director Wes Hurley crafts a film that is gorgeously shot by Vincent Price, winsomely acted and ultimately deeply affecting. We’re also deeply enamored with Catherine Joy’s score (the above video is proof). The only glaring flaws with the film are that the actors portraying both Lena and Potato are not congruous when they move to America. While that is understandable given Potato’s age when he arrives in America, it feels a bit odd for the character of Lena. That gripe aside, American Potato is expertly played by Tyler Bocock while American Lena is expertly played by Mary Sea Kaminski. The other gripe is more of a personal preference. Towards the film’s conclusion Potato full dives into his queer lifestyle and beds many men. Those exploits are shot rather viscerally and definitely suggests the film has an R-rating in its future. Anyone who has read this blog for some time knows our feelings on the overt use of graphic sex in film and Hurley’s option to keep that in the film feels a bit self-indulgent and superfluous.

Based on the short film Little Potato which won the Grand Jury Award for Documentary Short at SXSW 2017, the short also won Audience Awards at LA’s Outfest and the Ashland (Oregon) Independent Film Festival. Though it failed to win any awards at this year’s SXSW, that doesn’t meant this is the end of its festival run. We’re pretty confident by year’s end there will be quite a few who end up talking about this lovable, honest and deeply human film.

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