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SXSW 2021

SXSW 2021 Movie Review: Potato Dreams of America

By: Rachel Ho

Potato Dreams of America is the tale of two movies: life for sexually confused little Potato (Hersh Powers) growing up in the USSR with his mother, Lena (Sera Barbieri), and grandmother (Lea DeLaria); and an immigrant story for adolescent Potato (Tyler Bocock), Lena (Marya Sea Kaminski), and Potato’s new stepfather, John (Dan Lauria).

Potato’s story is the autobiography of director/writer, Wes Hurley, and it goes to show that sometimes real life is more unbelievable than we give it credit for. Without spoiling anything, I really thought one of the bigger plot points of the Potato Dreams of America was fictional simply because it seemed too perfect of a story line, but the end credits proved me otherwise!

I didn’t know anything about this movie prior to watching it — if I’m completely honest, I just thought the title was funny — but I was completely enamoured with the story of Potato and Supermom, Lena. Whether you are queer or not, being afraid and confused about new emotions and feelings as a child is relatable; and whether you’re an immigrant or not, the feeling of displacement as an adolescent is all too common. Potato Dreams of America manages to be both universal and specific, giving the majority of audiences something to hang their hat on.

Hurley chose to tell his story with a stylized approach that elevated the film really nicely. The first half of the movie is told with an American sitcom aesthetic (complete with American accented English) drawing a connection to little Potato’s obsession with American television and movies and provides a clever contrast to what the reality of living in a crumbling USSR would have been. The second half becomes more grounded and there’s a clear shift in not only the aesthetic but the tone of the overall film — drawing from the feeling of being the fish out of water newly arrived immigrant. While there is a distinct first and second half of the movie, Potato Dreams of America maintains its air of camp and dark humour throughout the entirety of the movie.

The dynamic between Lena and Potato is crucial in selling the tonal shift and fortunately for Hurely and for us, Potato Dreams of America is packed with fantastic performances. Hersh Powers and Sera Barbieri play the young son and mother with a great deal of playful tenderness that creates a lot of warmth. Marya Sea Kaminski and Tyler Bocock as the middle aged mother and adolescent son are so incredibly delightful to watch — Kaminski in particular is just spectacular. In addition to the leads, there are also some very fun supporting roles with Jonathan Bennett as a rather eccentric Jesus, and Consuelo Aduviso and Sara Porkalob playing the co-workers we all wish we had.

Ultimately this is a movie about acceptance. Acceptance from ourselves and our family for who we are, and acceptance from others to see us beyond the labels thrust upon us. A running joke at the beginning of the movie is that American movies and TV shows always work out in the end. For Wes Hurley and his mother, Potato Dreams of America itself is their Hollywood ending, and I can’t wait to see what else Hurley does with his new beginning.

Potato Dreams of America currently has no wide North American release date.

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