The Movie Waffler New Release Review - DREAM SCENARIO | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - DREAM SCENARIO

Dream Scenario review
college professor becomes a global sensation when he starts to appear in the dreams of millions of strangers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kristoffer Borgli

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula, Dylan Baker, Kate Berlant

Dream Scenario poster

With his breakout sophomore feature Sick of Myself, Norwegian writer/director Kristoffer Borgli gave us a tale of a young woman who takes increasingly extreme measures to ensure she remains the centre of attention. With his English language debut, Borgli gives us the inverse of this setup. Dream Scenario is about a man who finds fame unwittingly foisted upon him, ruining his life in the process.

Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is a professor of evolutionary biology who is so uninteresting he can't keep his students' attention during lectures, is ignored by his daughters and passed over for everything from dinner invites to professional advancement opportunities. He's the sort of man nobody would notice if they passed him in the street, but this all changes when he inexplicably begins to appear in the dreams of people who have never even met him. It turns out the phenomenon is global, making Paul a viral sensation. Suddenly he gets noticed everywhere he goes, he gets invites to dinner parties, is propositioned to become the face of various products, and his daughters even ask if he can drive them to school to impress their friends.

Dream Scenario review

At first, Paul's presence in others' dreams is innocuous. He's just there, like that Twitter account that photoshops Paddington into scenes from famous movies. But then he starts to take an active role in dreams, sometimes even sexually, winning him the attention of women, and leading to the cringiest failed coupling since that scene between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Lara Flynn Boyle in Todd Solondz' Happiness (the presence of Dylan Baker in a supporting role here suggests an acknowledgment of Solondz' influence on Borgli's work). Paul is dubious about his newfound fame and uncomfortable with the attention, but he sees an opportunity to exploit his status and realise his modest dream of writing a book about his theory of "antillegence."

When Warhol famously surmised that everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame he failed to predict that for many such fleeting fame would be quickly followed by infamy. Just as he satirised the very modern phenomenon of victim culture with Sick of Myself, here Borgli explores what has become known as the "Milkshake Duck" sensation, whereby a nobody becomes widely beloved only to soon find themselves a pariah when further details are revealed. Paul falls victim to this when his dream persona morphs into a Freddy Krueger-esque nightmare man who commits disturbing acts upon those whose dreams he haunts. Suddenly nobody wants to attend his lectures, he's ejected from restaurants, denied an invite to his daughter's school play and is embraced by the alt-right as a victim of cancel culture.

Dream Scenario review

At time of writing, this is the fourth movie starring Cage to be released in the past two months. While the films have been of mixed quality, Cage's prolific output can no longer be seen as the work of an actor sleepwalking through roles to pay off his infamous debts. For about 20 years Cage was something of a joke, providing ironic laughs with his over-the-top turns. Regardless of the role, Cage put in the same anarchic performance for each movie, sometimes disrupting films through his miscasting. In recent years however he's begun to remind us what a good actor he really is, and what range he possesses when he's reined in. He's become one of the most malleable actors a filmmaker could hope to work with, a director's dream. Watching him as the put-upon schlub here it's hard to reckon with this being the same actor we've seen in such diverse recent movies as Butcher's Crossing, Sympathy for the Devil, Willy's Wonderland and Pig. Paul is the sort of role that might seem better suited to a Woody Allen or a Paul Giamatti, but within minutes of watching Cage's performance you can't imagine the character being embodied by anyone else. Throughout the film our opinion of Paul morphs from indifference to sympathy to hostility to empathy, and it's the quality of Cage's performance that allows Borgli's protagonist to take us on such a journey.

Remarkably, Dream Scenario is inspired by a real life phenomenon whereby thousands of people around the world claim to have identified a sketch of an unidentified man as the specific figure that recurs in their dreams. The movie never really delves into why such a phenomenon might occur, but that's not really the point as Borgli simply employs it as a starting point to interrogate various societal issues. Paul's courting by an ad agency who wish to experiment with injecting products into dreams is a biting comment on our increasingly commercialised world where everything is now viewed as a potential billboard, even our subconscious. Paul's status as a professor allows Borgli to satirise the well documented state of American college campuses, where we're lead to believe the lunatics have taken over the asylum, filled with emotionally brittle rich kids who have never experienced any sort of hardship yet are terrified of being "triggered."

Dream Scenario review

The three act structure of Dream Scenario might be broken down as consisting of fame, infamy and indifference, the trajectory of many who find themselves in the social media spotlight. While the first two acts are thoroughly engaging, the film struggles to wrap things up in a satisfying manner and ultimately never really offers any particularly profound insight. As Paul's wife, Julianne Nicholson is wasted in a role that fails to do anything of note with the novel idea that the only person in the world who genuinely cares about Paul is one of the few people whose dreams he is absent from.

Coming so soon after Sick of Myself, you might surmise that Borgli was under pressure to rush out a movie and strike while the iron was hot. Perhaps if he had been given more time to develop his script and figure out exactly what it is he wants to say here, Dream Scenario might have been more roundly satisfying. As it is, it's one of the year's most engaging and interesting movies for at least two thirds of its running time, but its lack of thematic precision feels like a missed opportunity to create a more lasting impression.

Dream Scenario is in UK/ROI cinemas from November 10th.

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