Dream Scenario

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Dream Scenario
dir-scr Kristoffer Borgli
prd Lars Knudsen, Ari Aster, Tyler Campellone, Jacob Jaffke
with Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula, Dylan Baker, Kate Berlant, Star Slade, Joshua Richards, Noah Centineo, Amber Midthunder, Nicholas Braun
release US/UK 10.Nov.23
23/US A24 1h42

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Wildly imaginative, this comedy shifts into horror as it follows a nice guy who goes viral. Using witty imagery and breezy dialog, Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli skilfully keeps the story grounded even as it gets increasingly surreal. With its sunny imagery, in-camera effects and cleverly offhanded performances, this is an astute satire of how anonymity can turn into both fame and notoriety. It's funny, unnerving and ultimately bracingly important.
Nondescript biology professor Paul (Cage) is perplexed when he keeps running into people who think they know him already. And this also unsettles his wife Janet (Nicholson). Then he realises that he's featuring in the dreams of family members, his students, old friends and indeed millions of strangers all over the world. Global fame follows, as do threats from unstable stalkers. Social media expert Trent (Cera) brainstorms ways to make money from this. But soon these dreams begin to turn into nightmares, and the now vilified Paul finds himself cancelled for reasons beyond his comprehension.
An offhanded tone disarms the audience from the start, pulling us in with little hints about darker thoughts and feelings under the surface. Initially, Paul's presence in dreams is passive and awkward, but some see him in ways that are sexual, disturbing and increasingly violent. Where this goes is unpredictable and inventive, leading to a final act that takes Paul in a very different direction that feels perhaps a bit over-egged.

Cage is terrific as Paul, a hapless, innocuous guy who feels like he's been looked over by everyone. So of course he's happy to suddenly be so special, and he struggles to react when people begin to see him as Freddy Krueger. Nicholson's Janet is engaging as she wonders why she doesn't dream of Paul, then struggles to understand what he's going through. And the cast is packed with terrific cameos and smaller roles that add to Paul's story through very different perspectives.

As a professor, Paul teaches that sticking out can be an evolutionary benefit. Although his experiences here make him wonder about that. Paul is horrified when he becomes controversial and even loathed (although he's of course beloved in France), forced to issue a public apology for things he never did. This is a witty exploration of how dreams often fail to truly capture real life. And the film's refreshing message is that perhaps a dull, unremarkable life isn't so bad after all.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 9.Nov.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall