Why are so many movies based on a character’s pursuit of their dreams? Easy. Everyone has dreams, whether stated or not. But also because dreams are powerful things. They can control your life, in good ways and bad. Sometimes, the achievement of one’s dream is the best thing that can ever happen. Other times, it can be a lot more than bargained for. And that’s where we come in with Dreamin’ Wild, a heartwarming biopic based on the improbable but true story of the Emerson Brothers, musicians who saw their dream of creative success fulfilled much later than expected.
The film is directed by Bill Pohlad, who might not be a recognizable name but he probably should be. A few years ago he directed another amazing musical biopic on Brian Wilson, titled Love & Mercy. An Oscar-nominated producer on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, Pohlad has a similarly surreal, poetic quality to his filmmaking.
Casey Affleck plays the older version of Donnie Emerson, with Noah Jupe as the younger version, who in the ’70s with his brother Joe, played by Walton Goggins and Jack Dylan Grazer, made a bunch of music from their parent’s farm in Fruitland, Washington. Their music largely went unnoticed, and their dreams of becoming big rock stars were unfulfilled. But then 30 years later their music was rediscovered and became an underground hit, with collectors and music enthusiasts praising it as a hidden gem.
Suddenly, the Emerson Brothers had the fame and respect they were always looking for. But what does that mean when the dream was deferred for so long? Do they still want the same things? How tough is it to carry when you’re middle aged than when you were young and hopeful? In the case of Donnie, the film shows how that initial failure stuck with him throughout life. He carries around a depression, anxiety, and guilt that is unshakeable until his life starts to turn around. Pohlad, who also wrote the script, seems to have a keen eye for troubled musicians with great creative ambitions, who struggle to find some sense of normalcy away from the music.
Affleck, always such a wonderfully ntrospective actor, is at the top of his game here. It reminds me that we don’t get to see him nearly often enough as he tries to stay out of the spotlight. Goggins is a scene-stealer, also, joined by Zooey Deschanel who shines as Donnie’s wife and creative partner.
If it were up to me I’d have Pohlad doing all of the musical biopics. He understands this genre and his subjects better than most filmmakers do. The Emersons’ story is a bit of a fairy tale, and Pohlad wraps things up a bit too neatly to ensure a crowd-pleaser. But that’s okay, because their story, while presented in Dreamin’ Wild with a touch of melancholy, is a genuine case of dreams coming true and we could all do with seeing more of that.
Dreamin’ Wild opens on August 4th.