Following an introductory quote from Quentin Crisp, because naturally, we first meet our little Potato (his mother's nickname for him) when he is indeed little, real little -- so little he's able to magically transform the scene of his mother being beaten by his father in front of him into a spectacular song-and-dance routine (but in black-and-white, because nobody in Vladivostok has a color TV yet) just by framing it in between his fingers. But this isn't just some Iron Curtain Walter Mitty, of gritty realism butting heads with fantastical escapes -- in Hurley's capable hands this Potato World, even in its seedier moments, always feels extra special.
The USSR of his youth is as hyper-stylized as late Fassbinder, half-naked Russian soldiers dance-fighting in silhouette against the horizon, stagey rubble scenery and prison-scene pietàs. This is the delectable stuff of a Jarman movie, purposefully pretend, memory made arch and unreal. Because how else would Potato, cinema-lover, remember anything? Time's turned my own remembrances of childhood poverty and abuse into their own operatic movements, with shifting scenery and stage directions -- it only feels right to go big or go home, and Hurley gets that.
There are second and third act surprises I wouldn't want to ruin but Potato Dreams of America sees the young boy become a young man, switching actors and settings but never losing its sparkling sense of humor and community and wild creativity -- people keep surprising Potato, and the world keeps revealing itself to be weirder and, weirdly, kinder; as we move through the 90s and Potato learns of Gregg Araki and other gay people (in the Biblical sense) his story, so singular, really does begin to feel intrinsic to all our own. America might be a physical place but Hurley reminds us it's even more an idea, a boundless one, built on every immigrant imagination and dream.
Potato Dreams of America is screening at SXSW right now!