What happens when a disaffected teen with a penchant for platform boots becomes pen pals with a murderous dictator? Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse attempt to answer this preposterous question with their lightly subversive teen comedy Dear Dictator. High school outsider Tatiana (Odeya Rush as a convincing wannabe rebel) pouts her way through the halls, trading barbs with the resident queen bees called the “Slushies” (a portmanteau of “sluts” and “lushes”). When a class assignment compels her to write a letter to a “hero,” she chooses General Anton Vincent (Michael Caine), the dictator of a tumultuous island country, because she “likes his style.” To her surprise, Anton writes back, and a sort of relationship develops — one that escalates quickly when a coup forces him to flee his homeland.
Caine dives into his Castro-esque role with aplomb as he and Rush attempt to salvage Dear Dictator from its increasingly random plot, which includes Anton seeking refuge at Tatiana’s house and becoming a de facto handyman who wins over Tatiana’s mom (Katie Holmes), a ditzy dental hygienist with a boss (Seth Green) who likes sucking toes. The naive teen and sly octogenarian later team up to start a revolution at the high school, a literal “coup d’eTatiana,” that has life-changing consequences. Although the filmmakers name-check and appear to draw inspiration from Mean Girls, they’ve missed the mark on truly biting satire, leaving Dear Dictator toothless and silly.
Directed by Lisa Addario and Joe Syracuse
Opens March 16, IFC Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 14, 2018