An American Affair kicks off with an intriguing premise. It's the early
1960s in Washington, D.C. - Camelot time. An eighth grader becomes
intrigued by his sexy neighbor when he catches a glimpse of her sitting
topless near one of her windows. Aroused and wanting more, he starts to
lose sleep by keeping his eyes peeled at all hours of the night for more
nudity. He even acquires a pair of binoculars to make the whole premise
work a lot more like Rear Window or Body Double, so we begin to suspect he
will witness a crime. He does not see any more nudity, nor does he see a
crime committed, but he definitely sees something he should not. One
night, in the wee hours, the neighbor receives a booty call from none
other than President John F. Kennedy!
Some clever writers in a screenwriting competition might be able to
create a score of great movies by taking that same premise in twenty
different directions. Unfortunately, none of those fellows worked on this
film. American Affair soon degenerates into a wild-eyed entry in the JFK
assassination genre, and is filled with touches that are downright loony,
like the way the young Peeping Tom skulks around familiar Washington
landmarks, and hides behind the columns in stately Georgian colonnades,
from which vantage he is easily able to eavesdrop on expert CIA spooks.
Even loonier is the way he gains possession of a secret diary which proves
that the CIA and anti-Castro Cubans killed Kennedy. Good thing this kid
wasn't on the Russian payroll.
Meanwhile, the kid's regular parochial school life also continues to
move forward and follows the usual path of the "baby boomer coming of age"
genre. The film's two genres do not marry happily. It is in the nature of
coming-of-age dramas to be realistic and close to the bone, with small
details carefully realized. We have to believe the main characters in that
genre, which only works properly when we can establish some kind of
connection to our own experiences. In that respect, this film fails in
spades, because that sort of small, personal story is layered into wacky
geopolitics, wackier characters, and still wackier conspiracy theories,
resulting in not a single credible moment in the film. There is no element
of the film which is free from contrivance and artificiality: not the
boy's relationship with his sexy neighbor, not his interaction with his
schoolmates, not his interaction with his parents, and especially not his
interaction with JFK's killers (who, implausibly enough, include the
ex-husband of the sexy neighbor).
My favorite scene? When JFK's assassination is announced on TV, the kid
wanders into the apartment of the sexy neighbor. She is absolutely
overcome with grief (she loved JFK, as in true love), so the boy does what
any of us would do in the same circumstances. He kisses her passionately
and grabs her breasts.
No, wait. My favorite scene would actually have to be the finale, when
the guys who killed JFK also kill the sexy neighbor because she knows too
much, and also burn her diary to tie up all the loose ends. That part of
the story was loosely inspired by the life of Mary Meyer, a real
Washingtonian who had an affair with JFK and was killed within a year of
Kennedy's death. Those plot twists could have seemed sensible if the film
been a pure political thriller, but the script also had to wrap up the
coming-of-age portion of the plot. In order to accomplish that, the author
had the CIA spooks simply leave the 13-year-old kid alone with the
neighbor's dead body, even though he had read the diary and knew that the
CIA killed both his fantasy woman and the President of the United States.
Oh, and did I mention that both of the kid's parents were prize-winning
Yeah, I guess the CIA wrapped that right up, just like a present under
this crazy Christmas tree we call life.