The funny thing about Nicolas Cage is that at this stage of his career, after many strange, off-the-wall performances in bizarre movies, he’s kinda ubiquitous in a way. We see him everywhere, in movies, commercials, viral memes. And that makes him just the right guy for a movie like Dream Scenario, in which his regular joe Paul Matthews suddenly begins appearing in everyone’s dreams. Kristoffer Borgli’s third feature explores our obsession with celebrity, especially in the social media age, and how that fame impacts someone who is, by all accounts, pretty ordinary and invisible.
Borgli has a lot of fun with this idea, and so does Cage. Paul is a fascinatingly weird and deeply-flawed guy, and fame only makes it worse. A guy who is obsessed with looking weak, especially in front of his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson) and two daughters, and definitely feels short-changed by his academic career, Paul sees this newfound celebrity as an avenue to greater success. And for a while, it works. Paul is thrust into the limelight by appearing in the dreams of millions. He doesn’t actually do anything in these dreams; he’s a passive observer. That passivity matches his personality to a tee. For all of his protestations, Paul eats up the attention. In class he basically holds court, listening to stories about his exploits in the heads of others. He does TV news, and explores offers to expand into branding during a strange meeting with an upstart company led by a douchey Michael Cera.
The upward swing is too brief, however. Borgli gives up on the fun quirkiness of the conceit early, allowing a much darker observation to occur. Before long, Paul is experiencing an ugly, nightmarish side of celebrity. Those fans who were begging for selfies earlier, are now terrified of him. Some even want to hurt him.
Dream Scenario looks at the consequences of Paul’s embrace of fame, not just for him but for his family. They are innocent victims in all of this, too, and we’re left to ponder how accountable Paul should be for that. He becomes an overnight sensation for doing absolutely nothing, not unlike your average everyday Youtube star. And like a lot of them, the fame goes to his head.
Borgli meshes high-concept comedy and sci-fi with dashes of oft-scary horror, and the mix isn’t always perfect. But in Cage you have an actor who walks in all of those worlds quite well, and the further he ventures into weird and wild territory, the better. Alongside him is the always-reliable Nicholson as his poor wife, standing fast by her guy even as it throws her life and career into upheaval. This strange phenomenon changes everyone, so much so that it’s unclear how the film is going to end. Borgli seems to be struggling with it, too, making for a final act that takes an unfortunate narrative leap that might’ve made more sense if things were better explained. It feels like a shortcut to get to the conclusion that Borgli wants, rather than one that makes sense. Dream Scenario is a special kind of offbeat experience the likes of which wouldn’t be possible with anyone other than Nicolas Cage, and we’re lucky to have him.
A24 has released Dream Scenario into select theaters and DC, expanding it nationwide on November 24th.