Tatiana Mills (Odeya Rush) is teenage outcast who strikes up a pen pal relationship with notorious dictator General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine). When Anton is ousted from his island nation, he heads to the U.S. and finds refuge in the garage of Tatiana, the only person he considers to be an ally. Tatiana’s already complicated life becomes more hectic when Vincent interferes with her personal problems at school. Darlene (Katie Holmes) is Tatiana’s struggling dental assistant mother who is having an affair with her foot-obsessed dentist boss (Seth Green).
While Dear Dictator is charming and relatively enjoyable, the pacing and the tone are uneven and the film never quite seems to click. There is a underlying level of satire in the screenplay, but I felt it wasn’t quite biting enough to be completely effective. I also feel the script could have benefited from exploring the Tatiana’s “rebel in training” plot point a bit more. While it’s touched upon in the movie, it’s not the film’s main focus, which I think is a shame. There are elements of Mean Girls here that could have been really fun to play with, but there are too many other things going on in the script.
Odeya Rush does a very nice job of carrying the film, though I wish her character were a bit more defined. I feel in an effort to make Tatiana less of a caricature, the writing directing team of Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse toned down Tatiana’s rebellious tendencies, which just managed to water down her character. The same can’t be said for Holmes’ Darlene, who is written just over the top enough to put in jeopardy her believability as a character.
As much as I hate to say it, the film suffers a bit in the casting of Michael Caine. Anton is meant to be a ruthless dictator, but Caine is such an incredibly likable actor that I never quite bought that aspect of the character. Caine does give a very nice performance here, and it’s always a pleasure to see him on screen, but his lack of brutality softens the effectiveness of the film’s premise. Had the script painted Vincent in a darker light it may have helped cement the character a bit, but what we’re given is more of a curmudgeon than anything else.
Jason Biggs appears as an over-eager teacher whose role was slightly bigger than it needed to be, which I tend to believe was the result of having a named actor playing the part. While the character plays a significant part early in the script, I felt he was shoe-horned into the rest of the film.
I’m a fan of Seth Green, but I felt that he was miscast here. Both women in the film seem to have a need for a male figure in their lives, and given Darlene’s natural gravitation toward Vincent, I feel it would have made more sense for Green’s character to be a bit older. That may sound a bit nit-picky, and perhaps I’m reading a bit too much into the character, but it did stand out to me.
The film had a $5 million budget, and it was painfully obvious at times, particularly during a green-screen scene in which Anton is addressing a large crowd of his people. As the film has a satirical angle to it, it’s definitely feasible that the obvious green screen shot was intentional, but if that is the case, it was not successful.
Overall Dear Dictator is an enjoyable film with a nice performances by Odeya Rush and Michael Caine, but I felt the pacing and the tone were off by just a bit, resulting in a relatively flat film. Dear Dictator is worth a watch, but I’d wait until it’s available on a streaming service.