At breakfast before heading off to teach adaptive theory at Osler University, Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) learns his younger daughter Sophie (Lily Bird, "Beau Is Afraid") had an odd dream where he stood and did nothing as she floated up into the sky. Later an old girlfriend, Claire (Marnie McPhail Diamond), will hail him and his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson) at the theater, telling him she’s been seeing him repeatedly while asleep. When she publishes a blog article about the phenomenon, suddenly Paul finds himself the recipient of messages from hundreds of strangers, all making the same claim about this “Dream Scenario.”
Laura's Review: B-
A Charlie Kaufmann movie woefully lacking Charlie Kaufmann, writer/director/editor Kristoffer Borgli’s "Sick of Myself" follow-up presents intriguing ideas related to his subject’s field of study and own personality for about an hour, before veering sideways into a cancel culture screed far less subtle and far less interesting. Cage perfectly embodies a middle-aged academic raging against his own inadequacies and he does develop sympathy for his pathetic professor, but even he cannot save the final act of this overstuffed film.
What is really interesting is Paul’s field, our first class with him regarding how a zebra’s stripes, while doing the opposite of camouflaging it in its natural surroundings, nevertheless acts as protection when within a herd, preventing predators from singling out one animal. And yet, as Paul points out, there are also reasons for standing out from the herd, which one student quickly guesses as mating. The parallels to Paul, an invisible man grasping for recognition, are clear, especially when Paul meets with a college buddy, Sheila (Paula Boudreau), who is on the verge of publishing a book which Paul thinks he should receive credit for some three decades after sharing some ideas. She refuses. Their shared concept ties into the dream scenario as well, Paul’s ‘antelligence’ idea a forerunner of what we now call ‘hive mind.’
Cutting to Paul’s coveted but unforthcoming invite – a dinner party at Richard’s (Dylan Baker, "Happiness") – we see his guest Naomi (Maev Beaty, "Beau Is Afraid") describe a series of weird dreams where a schlumpy stranger keeps ambling through. He sounds like an acquaintance of ours that I’ve been dreaming about says Richard’s wife Carlota (Krista Bridges), and, producing a photo of Paul on her phone, Naomi’s eyes go wide in recognition. That evening, after Claire’s blog identifies him, Paul’s Facebook page is swamped with messages and when he walks into his class the next day, noticeably increased in size and enthusiasm, he is greeted with applause which he basks in.
At home, Janet is unnerved by all the attention being given her husband, who asks how she would have him appear in her own dreams, but is thrown when she recalls how drawn to him she was one Halloween when he wore a David Byrne big suit. Then Paul’s efforts to turn his sudden fame into a book deal of his own crash land when a meeting with branding company Thoughts? CEO Trent (Michael Cera) instead yields an offer for a Sprite commercial. On his way out, Molly (Dylan Gelula, "Shithouse"), giddy with meeting the literal man of her dreams, invites him out for a drink and things get awfully awkward, Molly hoping he will recreate her sex dream. And that’s when everything begins to change. It happens to be Halloween and back home Sophie seems to pick up on the vibe, dad now actively, aggressively striding into her room. She wakes up screaming.
Borgli has a lot of fun recreating all these dreams, Paul’s ambling through a classroom undergoing an earthquake in student Greta’s (Star Slade) or ducking out of a room as another is threatened by crocodiles. But when he begins attacking people, the dreams are less inventive and Borgli begins shooting fish in a barrel, hammering on things like easily triggered students when they cease attending class, cancel culture destroying not only Paul’s life, but his wife’s brief parallel rise in her architectural firm. Succession’s Nicholas Braun makes a brief appearance as Brian Berg, the CEO of Norio which develops a device which allows advertisers into your dreams, leaving us to wonder why anyone would purchase such a thing, especially Paul, but it is one way for Borgli to wrap, Paul attempting to win Janet back with her own fantasy – cue Talking Heads.
“Dream Scenario” is sure to delight many, but its scattershot approach weakens its heady, ethnological and evolutionary concepts and its last half hour is a drag.
A24 gives "Dream Scenario" a limited theatrical opening on 11/10/23 before it opens wide on 11/22/23.