Opening this evening, and tomorrow nationwide:
DREAM SCENARIO (Dir. Kristoffer Borgli, 2023)
In over 100 movies since he first hit the big screen in 1981, Nicholas Cage has forged an iconic, eclectic, and just plain crazy career to which no other actor’s filmography can possibly compare. The often-manic man’s many looks, which all still look like him, along with his all-over-the-place, yet strangely specific delivery has made him into a world-wide-recognized walking meme, and a genre onto himself. Admit, before you even know anything about a new movie – whether it’s good or bad – the fact that it’s a Nicholas Cage movie is alone appealing.
That’s why Cage is perfectly cast in DREAM SCENERIO, writer/director Kristoffer Borgli’s second feature, in which he portrays Paul Matthews, a schlubby, bald biology professor (with a big prosthetic nose btw), who for some reason starts popping up in the dreams of a sizable percentage of the population. But he doesn’t appear in the dreams of his wife, portrayed by a jaded Juliane Nicholson) apparently in real life either; but his daughters (Lily Bird, and Jessica Clement), actually consider calling him a cool dad when Cage’s Paul goes viral.
Our hapless non hero enjoys the spotlight as he’s craved some sort of fame for a long time we find in an early scene when he’s upset about not getting credit in an article a former colleague has written that he believes borrowed from his research. We get from this that the guy is rather pathetic, and, despite the attention, Paul is concerned that people tell him that he’s just a bystander in their night visions – “You don’t do anything, you’re just there” – one woman tells him - and that he just walks through not helping when the dreamer is in peril.
Then the film takes a dark turn when the Paul in people’s dreams starts becoming violent, and even murderous, and a shadow grows over his image meaning that a book deal he was hoping for looks to be doomed, and the viral PR firm he’s been working with (headed by another piece of perfect casting, an aptly glib Michael Cera with the perfect name of Trent) goes from pitching high profile campaigns (“we think we can get Obama to dream about you”) to saying they can maybe get him on Tucker Carlson.
DREAM SCENARIO is a witty piece of cringe cinema that is incredibly compelling, but can be incredibly unpleasant as one can completely get Paul’s spouse telling him, “It’s really embarrassing to be married to you right now.” Possibly the most I cringed was when a young woman, Trent’s assistant Molly (Dylan Gelula), wants Paul to help recreate her sex dream about him, and, well, I’m not going to go any further because it makes me shudder just thinking about it. Throughout this film, I can’t count how many times I squirmed in my seat for this guy.
Yet, with its imaginatively punchy premise, and Cage’s fearlessly awkward performance that feels like it could stand as one of his most authentic characters, this is one of the best films of the year. Despite its darkness, it has affection for Paul, considerable empathy for his predicament, and strong thematic thought-provoking points about cancel culture.
Borgli’s surreal satire is another win for the indie studio A24, who just came off winning the Best Picture Oscar for EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, and I love how it has a possibly unintended connection to the company’s re-release of Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE, the classic Talking Heads concert film celebrating its 40th Anniversary. Like the cringy sex scene, I won’t spoil it, but I’ll just say that the band’s David Byrne’s famous over-sized suit is involved, and leave it at that.
Finally, I must share the nifty Nicholas Cage sleep mask I got at the press screening: