Film Review: Dream Scenario
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
In Theaters: 11.24
The filmography of Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage has been so erratic that watching one of his movies can either be a dream come true or a genuine nightmare. While that’s not really what Dream Scenario is about, it certainly works as an added subtext.
Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage, Leaving Las Vegas) is a biology professor and family man whose life takes an unexpected twist when he begins to discover that many people are seeing him in their dreams. When a journalist publishes an article on the phenomenon and links it to Paul’s Facebook page, he discovers that it’s bigger than he ever could have imagined: Millions of people around the world are dreaming about him. Paul becomes a global celebrity, and it seems like this strange anomaly may be the best thing that ever happened to him, though his wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown, Blonde) isn’t so sure. When Paul’s dream cameos suddenly become starring roles in terrifying nightmares, he and his family become pariahs, and must learn to cope or find a way out of this unprecedented situation.
Ari Aster produced Dream Scenario (Hereditary, Midsommar), and there’s a touch of his influence particularly in the second half, though writer/director Kristoffer Borgli (DRIB, Sick of Myself) predominantly channels Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). The offbeat sense of humor and the mixture of whimsy and melancholy is strongly evocative of Kaufman’s earlier work, though the added horror element gives it just enough life of its own to establish Borgli as a promising talent. The tension builds steadily and becomes quite unsettling, with some of the nightmare sequences proving to be effectively jarring.
Korgli offers an intelligent exploration of the ways we connect in the social media age, the desire for our 15 seconds of fame, and the danger that comes with putting ourselves out there to a point where we can’t escape ourselves. While some are simplifying it as an indictment of so-called cancel culture, it’s not nearly that simple or on the nose, though it does have some interesting things to say about the way we enthusiastically build up public figures to mythical proportions only to tear them down with equal gusto. It’s rather unfortunate that the script bites off one interesting idea too many in the final section, adding a more science fiction–oriented plot element that suddenly requires more explanation than the filmmaker is able to give without completely sidetracking the film. While this wasn’t enough to earn Dream Scenario less than a strong recommendation from me, it’s enough to edge it off of my best of the year list.
Cage gives an outstanding performance that is second only to his beautiful work in Pig, and it’s the most exciting acting he’s done in decades as well as a reminder that when he’s at the top of his game, he’s the most interesting American film actor of his generation. The external and internal transformation into a dumpy, neurotic nebbish is quirky and entertaining without ever feeling like a gimmick performance, and Cage brings Paul to brilliant life as a complex, sympathetic, yet maddeningly self-absorbed and strange man in a way that it’s hard to imagine the performance from any other actor. Nicholson is quite effective as the unsettled and unhappy wife, communicating volumes through subtle facial expressions and body language. Michael Cera (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Barbie) Kate Berlant (Don’t Worry Darling) and especially Dylan Gelula (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Support The Girls) are scene stealers as a trio of young viral marketers who have big plans for Paul, and Lily Bird (The Northman) and Jessica Clement (Night Blooms) are charming as Paul’s two daughters.
Dream Scenario is a strange, cerebral and mesmerizing film that provides laughter, tension and a few solid scares wrapped up in a complex and creative package. It may fall just barely short of being a classic, yet it easily earns enough good will for its creativity and strong execution that it’s going to be remembered. It’s a win for Korgli and an even bigger one for Cage, who is entering an exciting renaissance that leaves me giddily dreaming of what he has in store for us next. –Patrick Gibbs
Read more reviews of Nic Cage films:
Film Review: Pig
Film Review: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent