A dreamer who couldn't sleep.
Remember the '90s? Guys grew their hair just long enough to feel bohemian without becoming hippies, girls and boys alike wore flannel shirts, and everyone listened to Pearl Jam. The times, they were a-changin', and so were films. Cameron Crowe's ensemble comedy/drama Singles was the definitive film for the Gen-X crowd, dissecting the missteps and true loves of young men and women trying to find their voice to the backbeat of newly vigorous musical voices like Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden. Tiffanie DeBartolo (Four Rooms and now a novelist) switched the setting to San Francisco and focused on just one couple for her '90s Gen X relationship flick with Dream for an Insomniac.
Facts of the Case
Frankie (Ione Skye, Say Anything) hasn't slept through the night in years. She sleeps, but never soundly, and the fact she works at her Uncle Leo's (Seymour Cassel) coffee shop guzzling espresso all day doesn't help, either. She and her buddy Allison (Jennifer Aniston, The Good Girl, Friends, et cetera, et cetera) plan to leave for Los Angeles in a mere three days to continue acting.
Fate intervenes. After bemoaning the lack of romantic, sensitive, intellectual suitors, Frankie meets David (Mackenzie Astin), a blue-eyed treat who starts working at Leo's Frank Sinatra-obsessed shop. Frankie knows he's the one, because they like quoting random philosophers and artists and he thinks her picture is cute. That kind of thing. But…obstacles beyond distance may get in the way of true love.
This film tries to represent the coffee-house intellectual farting around we all did in college in the early '90s, when ideas about art were alive with rebellion. The materialistic, overly-made-up '80s gave way to combat boots and long stringy hair, and no one made fun of the smart kids anymore.
Whereas Quentin Tarantino assimilated this pop-theorizing trend to great effect (catch his "why Iceman from Top Gun was gay" monologue in Sleep With Me along with the classic dialogue from his first two explosively popular flicks), here, DeBartolo falls short. As the kids fret on about U2's relevance, the meaning of love, and other such topics, the dialogue sounds canned, like it's trying. The characters all want to make points, but it just sounds like we're supposed to be impressed by their conversations, when in reality, I don't care about what they're talking about. It ends up sounding phony and not even that intellectual. For a much better sort of philosophical dialogue of recent vintage, check out Campbell Scott's rant in the opening scene of Rodger Dodger—these kind of philosophical benders are an art, and here, the work is artless.
Along with that, other scenes don't come off genuine either. Aniston is cute and floaty here, and does her job well, but the poor thing is saddled with a character that's obsessed with accents. It totally lampoons actresses, and I know, having been one for God knows how long and know plenty of them—and none of us walk around practicing our latest accent.
Though Skye is not a profound talent, she is still good, and this film makes me want to see her in a wide release again instead of hard-to-find indie shorts. Mackenzie Astin is downright cute and totally sincere as David. Uncle Leo is a little heavy-handed, but he and his son Rob (Michael Landes, Hart's War) add to the mix with a nicely handled, if tritely resolved, "Dad I'm gay" subplot.
The romance is really the meat here, of course, and as Frankie attempts to convince David to get rid of his current commitments, family and otherwise, and drop everything to move with her to LA, we do see a charming chemistry. The story is still awkward and clunky—the big plot twist regarding Frankie's biggest obstacle to David is rote and overused by oh so many movies from the beginning of time.
Dream for an Insomniac is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Technically speaking, the picture is not as sharp as I would have liked. The first act is in black and white; the moment things turn to color is quite clever. However, the black and white picture is the most difficult to watch, with a low-definition feel that makes you feel like you aren't wearing your glasses (and I was, thankyouverymuch). The color segments look much clearer. It looks as if the film was completely shot in color and then altered in the lab to black and white, which may not have the best effect on the print.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround was bland and uneven. The dialogue is constantly overwhelmed by the background music, and in this film, where one character is totally obsessed with Frank Sinatra, there's music in almost every scene. I could barely make out the dialogue when such music was played; overall this is a fairly mediocre mix. In music-less scenes, the dialogue was crisp and background noises came across just fine. Also included are English and French subtitles.
Extras consist of three trailers: America's Sweethearts, Maid in Manhattan, and The Sweetest Thing, romantic comedies all. It's so funny how some trailers are so much better than the resulting film, as with Sweethearts, and is it just me, or would Maid in Manhattan be a million times more interesting if Ralph Fiennes' character knew from the start that J.Lo's character was a maid? You know, deal with the class struggle all through it instead of that tiresome conceit of "mistaken identity" taking over? Whatever—these three trailers don't do much for me in the way of extras, though I am a fan of trailers themselves.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
When this film trusts its heart—the story of the romance between Frankie and David—we get a pleasant, easy-to-swallow tidbit of a film. I enjoyed the rapport between the two, pat as it was; they had some sweet moments, and all the actors involved did a very good job.
If you want to go for '90s twentysomethings musing on love and art, stick with Singles. Good intentions still don't make this a good purchase.
Limp dialogue and an awful sound transfer to boot—sentenced to several years listening to pretentious art students wax philosophical!
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