Judge Joel Pearce tried drumming once, but he didn't pick up any chicks.
Where would your dreams take you?
There are two kinds of indie film. The first, which I dread, are made by directors who want to show that they could compete in the mainstream market. They make generic films with no budget, and rank among my least favorite review titles of all time. The others are films made by directors who choose to operate outside of the system because they know the indie world is they only way they can make the films they really want to make: they have a clear vision and are willing to go through hell to reach their goals. Pope Dreams is one of the latter, a delightful drama from first-time director Patrick Hogan.
Facts of the Case
Andy (Phillip Vaden, Man Maid) is the drummer for a local heavy metal garage band. He's also a skilled songwriter and a sensitive guy, though, which not too many people see. His big dream is to scrape enough money together to send his mother (Julie Hagerty, Just Friends) to the Vatican before she dies of terminal cancer. Meanwhile, Brady (Marnette Patterson, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder) needs to find a boy to date that will really piss off her dad. She picks Andy, which sends them both down roads that they wouldn't expect.
From the description, Pope Dreams sounds like either a depressing TV-cancer-movie-of-the-week or yet another teen romance featuring an unlikely couple. Thankfully, it doesn't play out like either. Much of this has to do with the two main characters, both of whom eschew stereotypes in clever ways. While Andy certainly seems like a loser initially, Brady is surprised to discover how much he has to offer. He is talented, sensitive, and kind, which gradually makes her feel guilty for leading him on so much. Likewise, Brady's choice to use Andy this way is out of character. She isn't a dumb blonde valley girl, despite his first impression of her. She's off to Stanford in the fall, and while he knows he's operating out of his league, he also knows that he's found something special in her. I don't want to spoil anything, but their relationship doesn't go where we expect it to, and it's quite refreshing.
I was also impressed by how the film handles Andy's family. Andy loves his mother dearly, and is willing to go to almost any length to get her to the Vatican as a surprise. The rest of his family is so blinded by grief that they can't see this side of him, though, especially his father (Stephen Tobolowsky, Heroes). The struggles between Andy and his father ring true. Andy is torn between family loyalty and his own dreams, and his father is too grief stricken to see how much Andy really cares. One of the best tests of teen movies is to see how parents are portrayed. Here, they are well developed and realistic.
Like all the best indie films, Pope Dreams is clearly a labor of love. The performances are all excellent, and feature great exchanges between familiar faces and actors we've never seen before. The soundtrack is excellent, as expected coming from a director that has a background in sound production. Even though the script gets a bit "messagey" towards the end, it never feels generic.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Admittedly, there are a few flaws. Andy's best friend Pete (Noel Fisher, After Sex) doesn't become a true character until the end, and his attempts at comic relief fall well short of the bar. As well, though Marnette Patterson delivers a fabulous performance as Brady, it's obvious that she's in her mid 20s, and hasn't been 19 for quite a while. Things wrap themselves up just a bit too neatly at the end, though I liked the movie enough that I'll let that go with a little shrug. I'm a bit less forgiving of the title, which is clever but won't appeal to anyone. Apparently, it got a title change overseas, and Hogan should have considered a change for domestic release as well.
Technically, Pope Dreams looks pretty good. The video transfer shows a fair amount of compression during dark scenes, though it's unclear whether that's from the digital transfer or just the filming. The sound is much more solid (again, revealing Hogan's background), though I question the decision to record the 5.1 transfer at the lower 384kb bitrate. Still, it's quite watchable. There are some deleted scenes on the disc, as well as a commentary track from Hogan and producer Steve Loh. It's a great commentary to listen to, showing how much passion went into the production.
Despite a few imperfections, it's easy to recommend Pope Dreams. It's rare to see films with this much heart come out of the mainstream market, and its rough edges certainly don't detract from how delightful it is. I hope to see Patrick Hogan direct again in the future.
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Studio: Porchlight Entertainment
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