de facto film reviews 3 stars

A surrealist satire that takes a lot of aim in its commentary doesn’t always rise to the occasion, but it draws some rich ideas about our modern meme culture. Very much in the vein of Charlie Kaufman and the literary work of Franz Kafka, Dream Scenario is a dizzying odyssey with a unique premise and an impressively lamentable performance by Nicolas Cage. The movie suggests that it’s possible to dream of the same ordinary man with a shared consciousness and stars Cage as that ordinary tenured professor.

The film follows our protagonist, Paul Matthews (Cage), who lives a fairly comfortable life, teaching evolution theory to college students. Paul also yearns to write a book that he hasn’t even started writing yet. He even feels discourages when former colleagues embark on books before he does. Paul is certainly an irritable, socially awkward man that holds many deep flaws. This resonates mainly due to Cage showing vulnerabilities and tapping into his own personal psyche in search of those emotional truths. You can sense a meta commentary here. One that is admissible on many levels and the film takes you on a dizzying journey of Paul’s deepest insecurities, fears, and anxieties. This is reflected through Paul’s subconscious which begins to reflect in the public’s shared subconscious as they hold similar dreams of the same man.

Suddenly, strangers begin recognizing him in public as Paul keeps appearing in strangers ‘dreams, and he does nothing but walk by and observe. Even his daughter Hannah (Jessica Clement) has a dream where objects drop from the sky, and he just watches on. Paul eventually goes viral and gets media attention, which instantly puts him in the public eye. Now his students take an interest in him, and the classes go from evolution to discussing each student’s dream, which all involve them being in danger, and Paul’s dream doppelganger just watches on.

Dream Scenario review: Nicolas Cage is on peak form in this surreal, nightmare-filled dark comedy Courtesy A24 Films

Paul ends up being invited by a viral ad agency in New York City led by Trent (Michel Cera) along with his business partners Molly (Dylan Gelula) and May (Kate Berlant). Paul tries to use the fame as leverage to pivot away from being “The Dream Man” so he can be remembered for his knowledge and passions of evolution. Trent and his team want to seize Paul’s viral momentum as an opportunity to get big commercials. Paul pushes back and gets irritable, as he doesn’t want media attention to define his legacy. One of the film’s most amusing moments is when Molly invites Paul back to her apartment so she can recreate an intense sex dream she had, which Paul observes from the background. Already socially awkward and embarrassed, Paul has a very embarrassing moment that ruins the moment that brought tears to my eyes from laughing so hard.

Right from his awkward visit in New York, Paul’s loveable and jokey dream mime fandom is short-lived once he begins appearing as a boogeyman and starts violently attacking them, which creates a negative backlash where his students get easily triggered by him and the students refuse to attend his classes. Even Brett (Tim Meadows), the dean of Paul’s college that he lectures at, tells him classes are canceled until the students stop being triggered. This attention also creates tension between Paul and his wife Janet (Julianne Nicholson), who becomes guilty by association and is asked to step down from her position at an art museum until the frenzy goes away. It doesn’t take long for Trent to suggest that Paul use the cancel culture to his advantage so he can start having sit-down interviews with far-right types like Jordan Peterson and Tucker Carlson and to visit France, where his macabre infamy is generating a cult following there. Paul asserts that he doesn’t want to participate in any culture wars, and he just wants to get his book published. It’s clear Paul is a victim of a capitalistic rabbit hole that is vindictive and will prey on people’s hopes and dreams (literally) to make profits.

Dream Scenario' Review: Nicolas Cage Is Even Weirder Than You Thought - The New York Times Courtesy A24 Films

The film also has a personal meta touch that is delivered well by Cage. The Paul character is highly flawed here as a self-absorbed and insecure professor who longs to do greater things and gain stronger recognition. a character and performance that recall Spike Jonze’s brilliant 2002 masterpiece Adaptation and Gore Verbinski’s The Weather Man. The film can also be read as a meta-parallel to Cage’s online fanbase that gets overly giddy laughing at him, where the joke has gotten very old at this point considering Nicolas Cage has had a truly extraordinary career that should be more celebrated instead of ridiculed.

While the film runs its course in the third act with its satirical targets, from cancel culture to viral internet culture, yet there is something uncomfortably amusing and eccentric that holds it together, in part due to Cage’s performance. Ultimately inventive and timely, Dream Scenario is an imaginative work that thoughtfully explores the nature of human validation and holds a mirror to our current culture that is strikingly pertinent.

Dream Scenario is now playing in theaters.