10th Nov2023

‘Dream Scenario’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula, Dylan Baker | Written and Directed by Kristoffer Borgli

Nicolas Cage delivers one of his best performances in the fantasy black comedy Dream Scenario, from Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli, which takes savage satirical swipes at viral fame and cancel culture. It also serves as a thematic follow-up to Borgli’s previous film, Sick of Myself, a superb arthouse horror which dealt with extreme narcissism and the pursuit of fame at any cost.

Cage plays boring, middle-aged college professor Paul Matthews, whose efforts in the field of evolutionary biology haven’t led to the sort of recognition he had hoped for, partly due to his own laziness in actually getting around to writing a book. At home, he’s supported by his understanding wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), though he’s all but ignored by his two teenage daughters (Lily Bird and Jessica Clement).

Paul’s life takes a dramatic turn when he inexplicably starts appearing in people’s dreams (those of friends, students, and total strangers alike), albeit usually just as a passive bystander. He becomes a viral sensation and is soon being courted by the head of a publicity company (Michael Cera), looking to capitalise on Paul’s status as “the most interesting person in the world right now.” However, when “dream Paul” suddenly becomes homicidally violent, there’s widespread trauma and Paul finds himself cancelled, with extreme prejudice.

Cage is on terrific form here, delivering an entirely vanity-free performance that’s often painful to watch, because he lets you see every ounce of Paul’s vanity, insecurity and petty jealousy. He’s aided by some excellent costume and make-up work, more or less wearing the same jacket for the entire movie and sporting a decidedly un-Cage-like balding look throughout.

There’s also superb support from Cera, who pitches his perky PR persona pretty much perfectly, and from Dylan Gelula as Molly, an attractive young assistant at the PR firm who tells Paul she wants him to help her re-enact the lurid sex dreams she’s had about him, with excruciating (and very funny) results. (Excruciating sex scenes seem to be a thing in cinema at the moment – this comes just a couple of weeks after a similar scene in Cat Person).

As with his previous film, Borgli’s satirical scalpel is razor-sharp. The script is particularly good on the way viral fame can happen for essentially doing nothing, and the fact that once you’ve been cancelled, there’s often no way back, even if you’re actually innocent. Towards the end of the film, Borgli takes some less successful swipes at the rise of influencers and their inherent vacuousness, complete with the depressing realisation that if it was indeed possible to invade someone’s dreams, that’s exactly what would happen – random TikTokkers popping into your head trying to sell you sneakers while you slept.

Borgli’s command of the tone is also assured throughout, particularly when the film begins to lean into horror – the scary dreams we see are genuinely chilling and there’s bitter irony in the fact that when Paul eventually has one (in which he is killed by himself), his cries of “I’m just like you” fall on deaf ears, when he tries to appeal to other victims of Dream Paul.

In short, Dream Scenario is an engaging and thought-provoking black comedy that skewers its satirical targets with efficiency and delivers chills, quietly touching moments and big laughs (in a comedy of embarrassment sort of way) in equal measure. Also, if Cage doesn’t get at least a measure of awards attention for this, there is officially no justice.

**** 4/5

Dream Scenario is in cinemas now.


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