DREAM SCENARIO. Dreaming about Nicolas Cage [REVIEW]
Do you know why zebras have stripes? It is related to a survival mechanism within the herd, which can be summed up by the maxim “don’t stand out.” This motto also guides many people who spend their lives in an unremarkable, one might say gray, existence in a relatively safe environment within their microcommunity. However, maintaining such a position becomes impossible at times – for example, when hundreds of people suddenly start dreaming about you every night. This is the case for Paul Matthews, a calm and unassuming lecturer at a not very large and prestigious American university in Kristoffer Borgli’s film, “Dream Scenario.”
Paul is the most unremarkable person one can imagine – he wears slightly worn sweaters, has a substantial bald spot, a gray beard, and large glasses behind which he hides kind but slightly wandering eyes. Everything in his life is in its place, but there are no fireworks – he lives happily in the suburbs with his loving wife Janet and two daughters, and teaches evolutionary biology at the university. He has no special achievements, but also few problems in his life. Just a somewhat neurotic professor leading a peaceful, unremarkable life. So unremarkable that he took his wife’s last name and, despite scientific ambitions, never ventured beyond the safe teaching position. This cozy monotony is disrupted one day by a mysterious phenomenon – random people start regularly seeing Paul in their dreams.
Borgli’s surrealist starting point, the author of the brilliant “Crazy for You,” is used to create both layers of comedy and subtle horror. Tormented by clumsily hidden insecurities and compulsions, Paul is enchanted by the attention he receives and quickly becomes a media phenomenon. The lack of social skills and the sudden confrontation of the boring professor with fame provide a fertile ground for comedy. On the other hand, the sudden increase in interest in Paul has darker sides, which will become apparent when the character begins to give in to deeper hidden desires. It quickly turns out that Paul’s unexplained dream journeys bring not only fame but also threats that the seemingly virtuous – or perhaps less virtuous than it seemed at first – biologist will have to face. Especially when his presence in the dreams of strangers begins to change its nature.
The Norwegian director skillfully leads a seemingly abstract but surprisingly universal narrative through successive alleys filled alternately with laughter and shivers (whether of fear or embarrassment). Through Paul’s story, Borgli comments on the dynamics of social media and the fame gained through them, touching on themes like the random creation of memes, the commercialization of temporary popularity, or embarrassing non-apology recordings. All of this happens in “Dream Scenario” with balance, without excessive moralizing or exploitation of the initial idea (which was a problem in the director’s previous film). Add to that creative editing, intelligent interweaving by Borgli and Benjamin Loeb (the cinematographer for “Crazy for You” and films like “Mandy” or “Pieces of a Woman”) of distant and close-ups, and you get an excellent tragicomedy about the struggles of a neurotic average man with an abstract situation, balancing perfectly between genre tropes.
The greatest asset that Borgli had at his disposal for “Dream Scenario” is undoubtedly Nicolas Cage cast in the role of Paul. Once again, the actor proves how much he can offer when well-directed by a filmmaker who knows how to use both the classically dramatic strengths of the Oscar winner and his legendary overexpression. Borgli mixes these two faces of Cage in perfect proportions. Paul is a grotesque everyman, a protagonist arousing a certain sympathy and a slippery antihero in one. There is no shortage of moments in “Dream Scenario” when we get the typical eye-rolling and maniacal smiles, but Cage’s character remains credible as a man entangled in situations beyond his control. He is excellently supported by Julianne Nicholson (Janet, Paul’s wife), Tim Meadows (the dean), Dylan Gelula, and Michael Cera (PR company managers). Paul Matthews is a very complex and interesting character, in my opinion easily joining the ranks of Nicolas Cage’s best performances, not necessarily in the category of those “memorable” roles.
“Dream Scenario” is an almost exemplary film of the aesthetics associated – at least so far – with the A24 studio. Inventive, somewhat crazy, superbly written, directed, and performed, an author’s voice boldly flirting with genres but doing so in an unexpected way. Moreover, it gives us a showcase of the acting skills of a legendary but also unconventional star who, in an ideal world, would earn at least a nomination for major industry awards for “Dream Scenario.” What is perhaps the best, Borgli learns from the shortcomings of his debut and proposes a well-balanced story in terms of delivering morals and exploiting absurdity, built around a more nuanced than the titular character of “Crazy for You” protagonist. It is worth following the career of the Norwegian with attention and hoping that this is just the beginning of an exciting filmography. For now, he has surpassed a successful debut and served the audience a film that will haunt their dreams at night.