The quest for the American dream is a topic constantly tackled in cinema, but rarely executed effectively. Thankfully, Potato Dreams of America is here to save the day, and take us “gay all the way!” The biggest surprise from the new LGBT comedy is how relevant the narrative feels in the context of the world we live in today. Wes Hurley writes and directs, from an autobiographical script filled with fantasy elements. He injects both child and adult Potato with a warmth that left me anxious to spend more time in the company of this complex, lovable character.
A young boy named Potato (Hersh Powers, in his feature film debut) comes of age in the Soviet Union, surrounded by homophobic schoolmates and a budding sexuality that he struggles to comprehend. When Potato’s mom (Sera Barbieri) gets an opportunity to pursue the American Dream, we flash forward to Seattle in the 90s. Adult Potato (Tyler Bocock, also in his feature film debut) tries to figure out where he belongs in the grand scheme of things, while his mother remains supportive, even as she struggles through issues of her own husband John (Dan Lauria).
Potato’s story is hilarious most of the time, even in the midst of sometimes-terrible things happening. Everyone at school believes homosexuality is the sin to end all sins. It’s disheartening, but luckily Jesus (played by Jonathan Bennett) is there for Potato to lighten the mood. Both iterations of Potato, child and adult, deliver performances worthy of attention. Tyler Bocock as adult Potato, gets most of the laughs, while Hersh Powers as young Potato scene-steals to his heart’s content. A musical sequence, featuring the Virgin Mary, serves as a thematic split of the two distinct halves, and is a hilarious show-stopper, giving Powers one more time in the spotlight. Potato’s mother remains a constant loving presence in his life throughout. A surprising twist for the role of John gives Dan Lauria great material to shine. He performs a difficult role admirably, and imbues a vast amount of depth into John’s character.
The quirky indie charms of passion project Potato Dreams of America kept surprising me at every turn. It’s a gay comedy that wears a heart of gold on its sleeve. Though it frequently dips its toes in heavy subject matter, the endearing themes of love and acceptance will bring joy to anyone who watches it, gay or straight. It’s the perfect film if you need a laugh, or if you’re having a bad day. Following its finale, I was left with the biggest, goofiest smile on my face, and a great mood. Potato Dreams of America is part of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.