Features, Movie Reviews

Dream Scenario with Nicolas Cage is Hit At CIFF

 

Nicolas Cage stars in the first English language release of Oslo-born director Kristoffer Borgli (“Sick of Myself”), a black comedy called “Dream Scenario.” “Dream Scenario” is enjoyable, hilarious, original, and blackly comic, all while examining the idea of cancel culture and identity politics. It screened on Saturday, October 14th, at the Music Box Theater in Chicago as part of the 59th Chicago International Film Festival.

 It was hilarious and Cage is brilliant in it. He even told a Toronto crowd, where the film premiered, “It was one of the best scripts I’ve read, quite frankly, and I think it’s my best performance and probably the best movie I’ve ever made.”

PLOT

Paul Matthews is completely unmemorable.  Nicolas Cage, bearded and with a bald pate, looks more like F. Murray Abraham than Nicolas Cage. This film will add to Cage’s upward movement towards some critically praised films (“Pig,” “The Unbearable Weight of Talent,” “Renfield”)

Kristoffer Borgli

Director Kristoffer Borgli of “Dream Scenario” at the Chicago International Film Festival. (Photo by Connie Wilson)

Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. It’s a mordantly funny take on the collective consciousness of modern life, where anyone can suddenly become a strange kind of celebrity. However, celebrities can fall back into obscurity or infamy just as fast.

Paul Matthews is initially quite happy to be temporarily famous. Everyone is seeing the nebbishy professor in their dreams. His doing nothing in the dreams is a point of discussion at first. The film opens with a sequence where Paul’s daughter Sophie (Lily Bird) is imperiled. Paul simply continues raking leaves by their pool. (“You don’t do anything. You’re just there.”) Later, when Paul and his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson, “Mare of Easttown,””Boardwalk Empire”) are threatened at knife-point, the authorities comment, “It seems like you were pretty helpless in this situation.”

When Paul’s students start asking him “How does it feel to go viral?” Paul responds, “I actually enjoy my anonymity.”

DREAMS BECOME NIGHTMARES

Paul’s wife, Janet, is concerned that Paul’s new-found fame might cause difficulty, but Paul thinks that perhaps his 15 minutes of fame will open doors for him at a publisher. At the point that an organization known as “Thoughts” contacts him, the dreams that Paul has appeared in have been completely boring. He seems to be an inadequate loser, merely walking through the lives of the dreamers.

Unfortunately, the dreams go South Big-time. Some of the dreams become actual nightmares, with Paul murdering students and colleagues. Some dreams become sexual. One of the most hilarious scenes occurs when Molly (Dylan Gelula, “Hacks,” “Shameless,” “Casual”) tries to get Paul to re-enact her dream sequence where the two have great sex. She makes Paul stand in the corner, then tells him, “Please don’t speak. Just do the dream.” The sex is awkward, weird and hilarious—(just like real sex.) The young director singled this scene out as one of his favorites after the screening.

At some point, Paul is dubbed “Paultergeist.” A text message says, “I kinda’ don’t like going to bed now.” It’s a big change. Paul’s weird ability to enter the subconscious of dreaming subjects will lead nowhere good.

THE DIRECTOR

Kristoffer Borgli

Director Kristoffer Borgli at the Music Box Theater introducing “Dream Scenario.” (Photo by Connie Wilson).

The 38-year-old Kristoffer moved from working in a video store, to trying to write screenplays, to the visual side by producing skateboard videos, music videos and, later, commercials. What makes this film so good, however, is his very unique view of life and a satirical sense of style. His short film “Drib” at SXSW (2017) set him on his way to Hollywood. Kristoffer said, “They picked me up from the streets. I was, like, a nobody.”

Borgli, when asked about his own thoughts on fame, said, “You’re not allowed to be famous in Norway.  Nobody acts like they’re better than anyone else.”

THOUGHTS: MARKETING MOVES IN

 

Mary (Kate Berlant) and Trent (Michael Cena of “Barbie,” “Superbad” and “Life & Beth”) represent Thoughts, a marketing firm that holistically pairs brands with unconventional celebrities. Calling Paul “The most interesting person in the world” the duo tell him they can get him a 6-figure deal to sell the rights to his life. They suggest he do “Sprite” ads.

Paul, who went to the interview thinking that his book might finally become a reality, says, “I don’t want my Wikipedia page to be about that.” He explains that he is an evolutionary biologist and a PhD.

When Paul’s “fame” becomes negative fame, the marketers attempt to pivot the deal to less wholesome buyers. It’s all about the Benjamins. “Thoughts” wants to cash in.  They discuss “getting you on Tucker Carlson” and how popular he is in France. Paul’s book becomes very short. It is now called “Je Suis Un Cauchemar” (I Am A Nightmare).

NORIO

A company called Norio, whose CEO is Cousin Greg from “Succession” (Nicholas Braun), sees the potential in marketing a bracelet that will allow companies to intrude on people’s dreams to “pitch” various products. They guarantee “no nightmares.” An entire industry springs up.

Paul  goes on television saying, “I’m the biggest victim in this whole phenomenon.” He apologizes to the world for the brutal nightmares dreamers are unwittingly experiencing.

Wife Janet, hearing Paul on TV, is not amused. She tells him it is “embarrassing to be married to you right now.”

CASTING, COSTUMING & CINEMATOGRAPHY  

A special nod to casting director Ellen Lewis, a Chicago native, who worked for 34 years with Martin Scorsese. She has done a great job of putting the right actor in each part. Dylan Baker (“Happiness,” “Revolutionary Road,” “The Good Wife”) plays the host of the dinner party from Hell. Tim Meadows, who spent 10 seasons on “Saturday Night Live,” lets Paul sleep in his basement (but the overhead light buzzes and cannot be shut off.

Cinematographer Benjamin Loeb also does a wonderful job, with lots of exterior shots of the fictional university and the homes in Paul’s neighborhood. Borgli shot on film. Therefore, he did his own editing.

Q&A

Asked about happy endings during the Q&A, Writer/Director Borgli said, “In a way, I think happy endings make you less resilient to life’s ups and downs. We need to be more truthful. For me, comedy is the way to counteract life’s difficulties.”

He went on, “A version of you lives inside people’s heads, and they build a vision of you, based on that.”  Borgli has said, “I’m drawn to stubborn characters, who live and die by their own unattainable principles.”

It’s a great film—one of the most enjoyable at the 59th Chicago International Film Festival. Nicolas Cage is Oscar-worthy in it.  Don’t miss it!

 

 

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