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Review

Dream Scenario (2023)

OH, NO, NOT THE DREAMS! NOT THE DREAMS! AAAAAHHHHH!

Dream Scenario became one of the “weird movie” sensations of 2023, and it’s not really hard to see why. A film about a world where everyone dreams of Nicolas Cage? Hell yes! And, in fact, that premise, as revealed in the opening half hour, is the best part of the film. Unfortunately, it slides downwards from there to the point that I outright resented the closing act.

What starts as an intriguing, absurdist sci-fi lark gradually turns into hacky sitcom beats about a loser getting sudden fame, which in turn becomes a braindead allegory on viral fame and cancel culture. Credit where it’s due, though: the final ten minutes try to bring it together with an emotional thread that the film pulls off better than I expected at that point.

It’s never a good sign when my instinct in reviewing is as a line graph of how well the film works across its runtime. This is a wildly inconsistent and scattershot film of ideas, a decoupage of goofy “what-ifs” and vignettes united by Cage’s quirky turn as a nebbish college professor who can’t get anything right in the face of a supernatural conundrum.

The film is Norwegian director-writer Kristoffer Borgli’s English-language debut after his dark 2022 comedy Sick of Myself and 2017’s meta-documentary Drib, neither of which I’ve seen. Borgli clearly has a knack for intriguing and original surreality, but I’m curious whether he’ll be able to tie films together better than this, or if uneven storytelling is part of the Borgli experience.

The film’s biggest strength is its casting: Cage is good fun of course, shouldering the film into watchable even when it starts to sag. But the ensemble is really filled with great turns: Michael Cera is perfect as an advertising executive, and Dylan Gelula is a damn treat as she always is. (Team Shithouse for life.) Perennial comedy character actor MVPs Tim Meadows and Dylan Baker have medium sized roles, as does David Klein, who is new to me but I expect to see in films like this for the next 25 years. The 2018-2020 romcom prince Noah Centineo makes a great cameo, too.

The film’s dream sequences are heavily inspired by Michel Gondry’s work in Eternal Sunshine, but (it should almost go without saying) to much worse effect. It starts to feel cheap that the movie constantly hides whether any given scene is dream or reality, to the point where I didn’t trust anything that was happening and felt totally checked out on any twist we’re shown towards the end.

So I’m overall disappointed on the cohesion of the final product, especially the dumb stabs at commentary on fame in the second half. But I always appreciate a good high concept that pokes at the edges of reality. Dream Scenario is at least trying stuff and taking swings, with bits and pieces of it connecting.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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