Judge Brett Cullum is independent, damn it!
Calista: You know what the most watched TV show in Venezuela is?
Dreamland is one of those nearly insufferable films that scream "I'm INDEPENDENT, damn it!" Director Jason Matzner's debut is stunning to look at, well acted, but also overflowing with clichés of art house features from the '90s. It channels My Own Private Idaho and about thirty other features that defined what arthouse cinema could be other than French films with English subtitles and Merchant-Ivory costume dramas. The problem is Dreamland's meditation on trailer parks, teenage sex, and depression comes a decade too late. There's even a point where a cover of the '90s hit for Mazzy Starr, "Fade Into You," comes on the soundtrack to drive home the idea the film belongs to another decade. And yet with all this "air of the '90s" lingering over it, Dreamland still works on a primal level in many ways. So if you love the decade of grunge and Gus Van Sant, here's one for you.
In the heart of the New Mexico desert lies a trailer park named Dreamland where all our characters have come to hide out from the rest of the world and stagnate. There's the father who can't get over his wife's sudden death (John Corbett, Sex And the City), so he drowns his sorrow in beer and anxiety attacks that keep him in the trailer. We have the beautiful blonde Calista (Kelli Garner, The Aviator) who dreams of being Miss America, but suffers from multiple sclerosis. She's going to die soon, so she yearns for experiences. Also in the park is a man who scours the night sky for UFOs (Luce Rains, Vampires). A retired female rock star (Gina Gershon, Showgirls) with stage fright moves in accompanied by her faithful boyfriend (Chris Mulkey, Twin Peaks). Her basketball star son (Justin Long, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story) has blown out his knee and needs to heal. As if all that weren't enough, there's our narrator and lead. Audrey (Agnes Bruckner Venom) is a recent high school graduate who dreams of being a major poet, but has chosen to put off college to take care of everyone else in the trailer park.
Dreamland is beautifully photographed, and creates what must be the most scenic trailer park in America. Every shot aches with a palpable beauty usually reserved for Ansel Adams photographs. Almost all the action takes place outside under a heavily filtered sky. The cast is all attractive, and they make up a small group of "trailer trash" who could all end up in the pages of a fashion magazine. Yet they all have problems that produce angst and keep them hitched to their trailers. You can bet by the end of the movie everyone will have their own personal revelation of how to slip out of Dreamland, or at least make their lives more bearable for themselves and their loved ones. Nothing comes as a surprise, but the acting is quite good. The characters are portrayed honestly, and everyone seems fully formed despite the borrowed template from Gus Van Sant.
The DVD does little more than deliver Dreamland with no frills. There's a well honed widescreen transfer that captures the photography well, and a surround mix that provides the power for the indie soundtrack. There are no extras at all, so we only get the film with nothing to support it. All in all it's a gorgeous treatment with no supplements. The cover is slightly misleading, since it prominently features Gina Gershon even though she is in three minutes of the movie in total.
Dreamland is a pretty vision of angst spilling out of a scenic trailer park. It feels like it should have come out of the '90s, but here we are watching it today. It certainly has a committed cast that delivers believable performances, and enough dysfunction to keep the viewer engaged. Most of the film is hauntingly well done, if only it had more to say or do. The central idea revolves around stagnation, so perhaps the slowly moving poetic drama is purposefully laid before us at a languid pace. It certainly achieves what it sets out to do, and you have to admire the movie for that. It was a film festival favorite in 2006, and there's enough here to recommend a viewing of the film. But will Dreamland be a place you want to revisit over and over? Probably not. Spend your time there and move on is my advice, so a rental is in order.
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