Potato Dreams Of America


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hersh Powers and Sera Barbieri in Potato Dreams Of America
"Quirky and a little uneven but appealingly sweet."

To many people around the world, America remains a semi-mythical land where dreams might come true. 'Go west, young man,' they say, and for a boy like Potato (Hersh Powers), who is just beginning to realise that he might by attracted to men, the desire to get away from the east is particularly strong. His single mother (Sera Barbieri, also impressive in Rachels Don't Run) is terrified that he'll be conscripted into the Russian army, where terrible things will happen to him, so she starts looking around for a boyfriend who has more to offer them than a colour TV - ideally, a new life in the promised land.

Flash forward ten years and she (now played by Marya Sea Kaminski) and Potato (now played by Tyler Bocock) are living in a comfortable suburban house in sunny California with new husband/stepfather John (Dan Lauria). They no longer want for material things and Potato is enjoying his studies. There's just one problem. John chose a Russian bride because he expected her to share his strong religious commitments, which include an objection to homosexuality. If Potato's secret gets out, they could both be deported - something they are desperate to avoid.

Expanded from SXSW prize-winning short Little Potato, this film is a semi-autobiographical work by writer/director Wes Hurley. It's heavily stylised in a playful way which helps to keep scenes dealing with poverty and domestic tyranny from getting too grim. The young Potato finds a friend in Jesus (Jonathan Bennett), but the religious figure's purity means that he's not much help in dealing with with the boy's most immediate concerns. Later, an assortment of imagined lovers will bring colour to the transplanted youth's world, fuelled by a steady diet of risqué material from the local video shop. An initially shy teenager made more awkward still by attempts to welcome him and celebrate his culture, he's happy to dissolve into the West Coast milieu where, despite fetishistic attitudes to his birth nationality, he can find a sort of acceptance when just being himself.

Potato's experiences as a young immigrant are paralleled by those of his mother, whose blue collar work doesn't seem a world away from what she might have been doing in Russia but who, rather than being saddled with a continually critical mother of her own, finds support from co-workers whose accepting attitudes and cheery sense of humour put her at ease. No matter how tough things get, this positive undercurrent is always present in the film, which positions most people as basically decent and suggests that even the most stubborn thorny plants need only be provided with the right conditions in order to bloom.

Quirky and a little uneven but appealingly sweet, this very personal film went down a treat at OutFest LA and makes a pleasing alternative to familiar narratives about exclusion and alienation. It may offer a perspective tinged with the stuff of dreams, but it has its feet firmly planted on the ground. The relationship between mother and son gives it a solid emotional core and Hurley's imaginative direction means it has no shortage of energy.

Reviewed on: 22 Aug 2021
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A true story about a gay boy growing up in the collapsing USSR, his courageous mail-order bride mother, and their adventurous escape to Seattle in the Nineties.

Director: Wes Hurley

Writer: Wes Hurley

Starring: Marya Sea Kaminski, Dan Lauria, Tyler Bocock, Lea DeLaria, Sera Barbieri, Hersh Powers, Jonathan Bennett, Sophia Mitri Schloss, Cynthia Lauren Tewes, James Grixoni

Year: 2021

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US

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