Writer/director Wes Hurley brings his true story to life as he struggles with both a new life in America and his coming to grips with who he is.
Born is Russia, it was near the end of the Soviet Union. For Vasili, affectionately known as Potato, life in Russia is extremely hard. His mother Lena struggles with her job as a prison doctor due to a rise in prisoner deaths. However, Potato’s life changes when he and the family are exposed to American movies through an illegal signal. While he constantly finds solace in Jesus Christ and deals with both his mother and grandmother, Potato’s life changes when he discovers something he never imagined.
Facing a major threat, Lena decides to apply to become a mail-order bride. After some time, Lena is given a chance when she marries an American, John. With a new life in America, Potato now faces a challenge while living in the United States while coming to grips with his closeted homosexuality. Facing the fears of reaction from Lena and John as well as his one true friend, Potato soon makes a decision that will the course of his and his family forever.
Very rarely do you get a true story come to life that may have its laughs, but also coming out to be a very important film about struggles from different spectrums. For Russian-born writer/director Wes Hurley, the events in this film are based on his life story. As a man who is openly gay and who as born in a world where turmoil was bound to happen, his story is one people need to see.
Hurley does something very interesting in the first act of the film, which takes up the first third. Set in the end days of the Soviet Union, he has all the characters speaking with American accents. With Potato played by Hersh Powers and Lena played by Sera Barbieri, it is as we see Hurley’s childhood vision of being immersed in American culture while living in his hometown of Vladivostok. The highlights of this first act of the film are LGBTQ icons Jonathan Bennett as Jesus Christ, Potato’s only “friend” in his quest for self-discovery (fans of the original Kickboxer will get a hoot in an important and hilarious scene); and Orange is the New Black’s Big Boo herself, Lea DeLaria, who is absolutely fantastic as the snarky grandma Tamara. DeLaria brings her amazing brand of humor to the role to sheer perfection.
The second act changes course as we now see a realistic portrait as we see Marya Sea Kaminski replace Barbieri as Lena and Tyler Bocock as the now teenage Potato, who struggles with not only his homosexuality, but now adjusting to a new life in America. Things are complicated when it comes to Potato’s stepfather John, played by TV and stage icon Dan Lauria, forever known as Mr. Arnold in the original Wonder Years. We learn John has quite a habit of having Russian wives and leaving them a few months forcing them back to the USA if they don’t conform to his ways. However, as the film goes on, some shocking twists occur that changes the course of Potato and his family. The twists are quite jaw-dropping and yet ultimately satisfying and brings a new perspective involving one word: acceptance.
While people will see it as a dark comedy, Potato Dreams of America is a very important film to see, especially if you are involved in the LGBTQ+ community and/or you’re from another country and doing your best to adjust to a new area you’re not familiar with. For Wes Hurley, he has done both and is more than happy to share his story in his own unique way.
WFG RATING: A+
Dark Star Pictures presents a Creative Capital Project film. Director: Wes Hurley. Producers: Wes Hurley and Mischa Jakupcak. Writer: Wes Hurley. Cinematography: Vincent Pierce. Editing: Wes Hurley.
Cast: Marya Sea Kaminski, Tyler Bocock, Dan Lauria, Sera Barbieri, Hersh Powers, Lea DeLaria, Jonathan Bennett, Cynthia Lauren Tewes.