What makes someone fascinated with making movies? Is it a creative desire that should be nurtured, or an unhealthy obsession that needs to be cured? Is Hollywood a place where dreams can come true, or where hapless dreamers find nothing but unhappiness and disillusionment? These are some of the questions posed by Dreamers, with its tale of two young men who struggle to make a career in film, though it doesn't necessarily provide much by way of answers or insights.
Dreamers falls into that genre of films about films: in this case, specifically it's an independent film about making an independent film. The self-referentiality goes a level further, as the nameless film that the characters are trying to make is itself about wanting to make movies; within the film, the characters also refer several times to the film The 400 Blows as a model of, or counterpoint to, their own attempts to follow their dreams. The multiple levels here reinforce the overall theme, which deals with the desire to make movies, and the fact that some people are incorrigible dreamers, fascinated by creating something in front of the camera, in whatever form.
Dreamers offers two main points of interest for the viewer: the first is a glimpse of the underbelly of glamorous Hollywood, where every coffee shop is full of would-be directors, writers, producers, and actors, and where tiny films (some artsy, most pornographic) pop up like mushrooms in every available space for filming, nonexistent budgets propped up by the filmmakers' fervent belief that this is their breakthrough movie.
The second main point of interest is the pair of characters, Ethan (Mark Ballou) and Dave (Jeremy Jordan). Childhood friends joined by a shared fascination with Hollywood, the two have taken different paths: one chasing his dream and another staying with his suffocatingly strait-laced family. We see their reunion and its consequences on each character: faced with the reality behind their dreams, each one deals with disappointment in a different way.
For the most part, the film keeps the story moving and the viewers interested in the fates of the two friends. Admittedly, many elements of the film don't really stand up to scrutiny, seeming to be present more because it helped move the film along in story or theme rather than because it made real sense. For instance, it's never completely convincing why Ethan calls on Dave to come out to Hollywood when he does, or what Dave expects to do there. In another case, a sub-thread about Dave's budding romance with an employee of the coffee shop he and Ethan frequents both builds and ends in a very contrived manner, as if dictated by the requirement that Dave have a live relationship in counterpoint to his obsession with "porno."
In the end, Dreamers offers a fairly clear-headed look at these dreamers with their aspirations coming face to face with cold reality. The film offers a reasonable sense of closure for its story, though it's not improved by an odd "twist" ending; it doesn't really relate in tone to the rest of the film, nor does it offer any new insight into what has gone before; it almost seems like an afterthought, an "I can do this" addition for its own sake.
Dreamers is presented in a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that preserves the film's original aspect ratio. Overall, the transfer is adequate; the print is clean and free of defects, and there is very little noise or edge enhancement in the image. What prevents Dreamers from looking better on DVD is a conglomeration of minor elements: a certain graininess, a certain flatness in the colors, a general drab appearance.
Dreamers' Dolby 2.0 track is reasonably good; it has a generally clean sound, with no distortion or noise in the background. The dialogue is natural-sounding and is usually perfectly clear, although I noticed a few instances in which it sounded a bit muted. Overall, it's a notch above average.
Several interesting special features are offered on the Dreamers DVD. Foremost is an audio commentary track by director Ann Lu. We also get a fifteen-minute behind-the-scenes documentary, which pleasingly skips any promotional-style fluff and gets right to the interesting material about the making of the film, such as the location scouting and art direction. There are also three deleted scenes.
Dreamers probably fits best as a rental for viewers who are interested by the film's moviemaking theme; it's not a bad character drama, but it doesn't quite take the next step to be truly engaging. It's reasonably entertaining, but everything is pretty much there on one viewing; there won't be much replay value, except to listen to the director's commentary for those who are interested in the making of the film. The non-anamorphic widescreen DVD presentation is adequate, particularly with the film as a rental choice.