As much as writer/director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) looks to explore anonymity vs. notoriety in his new Nic Cage-led Dream Scenario, he has plenty to say about the cult of online viral fame, mediocre white dudes and trauma response. On one hand, Scenario seems to lambast the self-entitled, those who desire safe spaces and those who long to be anything more than nothing, regardless of cost. On the other hand, its closing act muddles its earlier points—though perhaps confusing the audience is the idea.
In Scenario, Cage plays everyman Paul Matthews, a balding middle-aged dad type with a mid-tier tenured professor job at some college back east. As Paul struggles to earn respect from his family, gain credit on research papers that only tangentially touch upon work he’s possibly thinking about doing and eke out a happy little life, he begins appearing in dreams around the globe. At first, it’s to folks with whom he has some connection, and he only arrives in dreams passively. But as the time goes by, dream Paul starts popping up practically everywhere and becomes overtly sexual or violent. His students won’t attend classes anymore, his family can’t understand why he won’t take responsibility (as if he should!) and the high price of fame becomes more like a nightmare than a blessing.
This very well could be Cage’s best performance to date. He disappears into Paul’s strange combination of self-loathing and narcissism so completely—perhaps it’s the horseshoe hairdo—with his mannerisms and speaking patterns, that we finally get a film wherein we can forget the actor. The people in Paul’s orbit prove the most interesting characters, however, from a branding startup exec pushing Paul to sell Sprite in dreams (a brief but brilliant turn from Michael Cera) to the young woman who wants Paul to recreate her sex dream in real life (Dylan Gelula). Our hero, meanwhile, remains unremarkable throughout.
You might even feel for the guy as his daughters neglect him and his wife seems intent upon deflating his more excited moments, but Paul’s knack for making every single thing about him wears so thin so fast that it’s a wonder anyone cared for him in the first place. Add another good one to the A24 roster here, because if Dream Scenario succeeds at anything, it’s crafting a story that practically demands we self-reflect while we watch.
+Cage in a career-best; interesting psychology
-Ending raises more questions than it answers
Directed by Borgli
With Cage and Cera
Violet Crown, R, 102 min.