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"Dream Scenario" Review

Sometimes a movie has an intriguing germ of an idea, but not enough of that idea to tell a satisfactory story and the latest example of that sort of thing is A24's Dream Scenario which takes a very good, restrained Nicolas Cage performance and an intriguing premise about as far as it can go before wandering off lost in the woods because there is no real point to be made.

 Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a college biology professor for whom the term "nondescript" implies much more pizazz than he exhibits. He's got a wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson, Mare of Easttown), and two teenage daughters, Hannah (Jessica Clement) and Sophie (Lily Bird) and lives in a very nice home, but his students don't really pay attention in class and he's feeling professionally disrespected, if not ripped off by a colleague who seems to be basing her work on his concepts. But being a dull man in an oversized parka with a fuzzy fur collar, who cares, right?

 Things get more interesting when he notices strangers looking at him more than seems called for even without the coat, but the reason isn't known until an old girlfriend of his, Claire (Marnie McPhail Diamond), approaches him and Janet after seeing a play, telling them that Paul as been appearing regularly in her dreams. She asks if she could write about this odd occurrence on her blog and he agrees, but wakes up shortly thereafter to have 100+ messages on FaceSpace from people who found his profile and shared that they too have been seeing him in their dreams.

Regardless of what the dreamer's scenario is - teeth falling out; being chased by a monster in a surreal landscape; trapped in an earthquake; holding a dying friend - the common element is that Paul appears, but says and does nothing and seems disconnected from the situation. Of course the media hops on this curiosity and Paul immediately goes viral.

However, sudden fame has its downsides as a mentally unbalanced man breaks into the family home and tries to kill the man from his dreams. Trying to make a produce stand out of these dreamy lemons, Paul takes a meeting with a branding marketing startup called Thoughts? run by Trent (Michael Cera, not at all like he used to be) who wants to use Paul's fame to influence dreamers into drinking Sprite. Paul wants a book deal, but for a hard science book, not some instant fame cash-in, so there's not much agreement to be found.

 After the meeting, he goes for drinks with Trent's assistant Molly (Dylan Gelula, who played Xanthippe, Jane Krakowski's hot surly daughter on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) who confides in him that she had a really hot sex dream with him and wants him to come over to reenact it. This goes about as well as you'd expect for a guy who wears that coat, but things in general take a very dark turn as the multitudes who have Paul in their dreams start to find him to be an increasingly hostile visitor and the backlash begins.

At the center of Dream Scenario is a very good performance from Cage who has been tinkering with the balance between paycheck gigs to actual acting roles lately with a wrongly Oscar-snubbed performance in Pig and his self-deprecating take on himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. With a male pattern baldness coif and those dad clothes, Cage's Paul is a decent, but weak man, who tries to ride out an increasingly bizarre situation that is wholly out of his control yet entirely not of his making. He didn't purposely intrude on people's dreams, he doesn't control what they experience, yet the whole world holds it against him.

There are several concepts that Norwegian writer-director-editor Kristoffer Borgli attempts to play with - the fleeting fickleness and shallowness vapidity of viral fame, the semi-emasculated condition of some men at the hands of conniving women, the way today's snowflake Zoomer generation can't cope with the slightest adversity - but he never plunges wholly into any of them with much teeth or gusto. If only he'd picked a topic nailed its absurdities.

It doesn't help that when the dreams stop and the concept of a gizmo which allows people to enter other's dreams - BOUNDARIES, ANYONE?!? - which becomes just another influencer marketing racket (hot on the heels of the latest South Park episode mocking this), it all fizzles out into a underdeveloped last movement which reveals that Borgli had a good idea, but that idea just couldn't prop up a satisfying feature-length narrative. (It's like so many Saturday Night Live sketches which just trail off because they can't write a button for it.)

Just as with Netflix's Leave The World Behind a few weeks ago which stretched a Twilight Zone episode's premise over a 400% longer runtime, Dream Scenario also feels like it would've been a good Twilight Zone episode in the 45-minute-long range. As it is, it's not a nightmare but just a dream that ends just as it could've gotten good.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable/streaming.


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