Review: 'Potato Dreams Of America' a Quirky Charmer from Wes Hurley

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 6, 2021

'Potato Dreams of America'
'Potato Dreams of America'  

Writer-director Wes Hurley draws on his own life to tell the stoy of Potato (Hersh Powers), a young boy living in Vladivostok, where his mother, Lena (Sera Barbieri) works as a doctor at a jail (a job where she's told to list violent beating deaths as "accidents" and "heart attacks") and his grandmother (Lea DeLaria) works at a police museum, cataloguing crude homemade weapons and bloodstained garments.

Lena is fearless and stubborn; she throws her drunken, abusive husband out, slams the door on an indecisive lover, and finally takes a chance on an American man in Seattle who's looking for a Russian bride in the post-Soviet era.

Hurley's depiction of Russia is like a storybook, albeit an unflattering one; everything is heightened, theatrical, and has an air of deliberate fakery about it. America is a storybook of another sort - or rather, a movie; it's the films from America that have caused mother and son to fall in love with the U.S., and sparked in Potato a determination to become a filmmaker.

Once settled in Seattle, Potato sprouts into a gangly teen (Tyler Bocock) while Lena (now played by Marya Sea Kaminsky) embraces her new life with gusto, despite being reduced to working at a fast food chain while enduring threats from her new American husband, John (Dan Lauria), who quickly makes it clear that he can send Lena and Potato back to Russia any time he wants - and indeed, he's done so with a previous Russian bride.

John's attraction to Lena has to do with Lena being Russian Orthodox, a faith John sees as appealing due to, rather than in spite of, its "rigidity," especially when it comes to things like LGBTQ issues. That becomes a problem when Potato realizes he can't simply wish being gay away, and starts to find affirmation in LGBTQ films like Gregg Araki's 1992 classic "The Living End."

How's it all going to turn out? If you've followed Hurley's career, you might already know the answer - a twist so funny and out of left field that you'd never believe it in a movie. But go ahead; believe it here, because it really happened.

Jump into this quirky charmer.

"Potato Dreams of America" screens at OUTshine Fort Lauderdale, NewFest (NYC), and Seattle Queer Film Festival

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.