Written and Directed by Kristoffer Borgli | 102 min | ▲▲▲▲△
A version of this review appeared during FITI’s coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Once again A24 produces a film the likes of which we’ve not seen before, proving the American indie studio is consistently making the best movies in Hollywood.
Dream Scenario presents Nicolas Cage at peak schlub — practically a cousin to the twins in Adaptation — as Paul Matthews, an awkward and insecure tenured professor with a wholesome family life. Julianne Nicholson plays his wife, with Lily Bird and Jessica Clement his daughters. Paul isn’t exceptional, and also isn’t entirely happy with himself or his lot, especially around an academic tome he’s wanted to write but still hasn’t. Out of nowhere friends and colleagues keep telling him they’ve been dreaming about him, which rapidly becomes epidemic, turning this mild-mannered prof into a viral subconscious sensation.
Paul starts to enjoy the attention, even engaging a smarmy publicist (Michael Cera winning this year with terrific supporting roles), but never anticipating the heavy cost of stardom when those dream appearances become less than benign.
A delicious take on the uncontrollable nature of social media and cancel culture, Dream Scenario doesn’t make any effort to explain the phenomena Paul is experiencing any more than we can understand the vicissitudes of celebrity. It’s not really about the celebrated, it’s about us and what we decide is special. Until we don’t.
There’s a thoughtfulness in the movie’s bedrock while it’s also a hilarious, bone dry delight, not to mention a terrific Toronto film, offering a lovely collection of autumnal locations in the Six.
Cage is spectacular in this role — his constant, evident discomfort and bad decision-making are what give the picture its through-line of cringy joy — it can join Mandy and Pig amongst his best recent work. If Dream Scenario loses some steam in the final act with a turn into a Cronenbergian denoument, it doesn’t diminish its overall pleasures.