Kristoffer Borgli’s “Dream Scenario” stars Nicolas Cage as Paul Matthews, a tenured college professor who speaks often of a book he hopes to write about ants.
Paul is a family man, a hopeless nerd and socially awkward. It’s to Paul’s great surprise when slowly begins to realize that everyone around him is having dreams in which he appears.
Writer/director Borgli begins his film on a strong note of surrealism, in which a flying dream is the first indication of the widespread phenomenon of Paul casually walking into a dreamscape. As the story progresses, Paul becomes instantly famous for being a figure in everyone’s dreams, though the dreams widely vary.
When the nature of the dreams turns dark, Paul’s sudden fame reverses itself, as people become afraid of the sight of him.
Cage is wonderful in this, changing his outward appearance and creating a portrait of a man who is well meaning, intelligent and foolish. I enjoyed Cage’s performance far more than the film overall.
While aiming for the high-wire surrealism and bonkers comedy of “Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind” (2004) and “Being John Malkovich” (1999), this doesn’t reach the creative highs that Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry reached.
It’s more like the amusing but limited Paul Giamatti vehicle, “Cold Souls” (2009).
“Dream Scenario” skillfully establishes its high concept, then coasts on weirdness for most of the second act, demonstrating how much Cage’s character can be tortured for his strange ability. A sequence in which Cage visits an ad agency (featuring Michael Cera in a supporting role) goes on too long.
We finally get to a wild concept in the third act, which aims to tease self-righteous millennials and the tendency to commercialize anything that finds a collective audience.
Borgli’s film can be interpreted as a satire of what happens to people who are unfairly “cancelled” and how society treats those who are no longer deemed socially acceptable.
Perhaps it’s due to how unlikable Paul is or the overly droll tone, but the interesting ideas here aren’t enough to make it a great movie. By the final scene, which fully embraces a Talking Heads visual (and includes a great “True Stories” track over the end credits), I was fond of Cage’s creative investment but find this only slightly better than “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (2022).
Doing “Dream Scenario” and “Renfield” in the same year (and, make no mistake, Cage is terrific in both) demonstrates Cage’s endorsement and engagement of offbeat material. “Dream Scenario” has its moments, but it’s mostly a downer and underwhelming, not reaching as far into the stratosphere as its lead actor is clearly willing to go.
Two and a Half Stars