Professor Paul Matthews is a pretty nondescript guy. He works at a university where his students don’t care about his lectures. He has a pleasant relationship with his wife, but his two daughters have little interest in him. He doesn’t really have friends because people find him boring. He wants to be noticed so he can fulfill his ambition of writing a book on ants. Then, suddenly, everyone does start to notice Paul. This is because, without explanation, thousands around the world begin seeing him in their dreams.
That is the setup for Dream Scenario (97 minutes, minus the end credits), a creative, fairly funny, metaphor for what it means to go viral. The effect that instant unexpected fame can have on a regular person can absolutely be life-changing, in positive or negative ways. Internet popularity is unpredictable and, in many instances, uncontrollable. That is what Paul experiences. Now, in his case, he literally did nothing to contribute to his situation. He can’t control what others dream about. He is just living his life when, out of nowhere, people are intrigued by him, even though he’s the exact same awkward, desperate, dull guy he always was.
Dream Scenario starts strong and does some engaging stuff with Paul’s fame and the dreams themselves. There is genuinely funny material here. It is less successful when poking at cancel culture and consumerism. Looking at an age when anyone can stumble into celebrity through the eyes of a man who didn’t do anything to become one is a good premise. Writer/director Kristoffer Borgli gets a lot of mileage out of showing the consequences Paul faces for embracing his ubiquitousness in people’s dreams. His journey takes him to strange places. However, the screenplay takes a turn approximately two-thirds of the way in and it isn’t as clear on what it wants to say from there. Still, this is an interesting, entertaining movie, with a very enjoyable lead performance from Nicolas Cage.
Nicolas Cage is one of the most captivating actors working today, especially when he’s in something that asks for his talents and lets him cut loose. Dream Scenario is different in that Cage isn’t going over-the-top. He’s playing an anxious man, invisible even to those who know him, who becomes known globally for something he didn’t do and has no control over.
Cage is funny in the bevy of uncomfortable moments when his newfound status puts him in a position he has no clue how to handle. He is a quiet guy who loves biology. He doesn’t understand the first thing about navigating celebrity, even if he does hope to use it to his advantage. Cage is so effective at displaying Paul’s insecurity, confusion and frustration, while making it obvious that Paul is not good at being anyone other than his hapless self.
The dreams are well-staged, with Paul having an essentially unrelated cameo in whatever bizarre dream is being had. These scenes get laughs, yet they also go a long way toward explaining why everyone is so fascinated by him. Here is a real person, not known by many people, who appears in random strangers’ heads, usually walking by and doing nothing. What is so special about him? The fact that the answer is “not a single thing” is a great way to mock the very concept of viral fame.
Dream Scenario is an odd comedy of ideas that ultimately leaves them about 75% realized. Borgli plays with his premise amusingly for a while and Cage is nearly always worth watching. This is a movie with a weird, offbeat, energy, that gets close to saying something about its subject matter, but seems satisfied simply taking shots at it.
3½ out of 5
Nicolas Cage as Paul Matthews
Julianne Nicholson as Janet Matthews
Lily Bird as Sophie Matthews
Jessica Clement as Hannah Matthews
Dylan Gelula as Molly
Michael Cera as Trent
Tim Meadows as Brett
Dylan Baker as Richard
Directed and Written by Kristoffer Borgli