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Dreamland

Sony Pictures // PG-13 // December 19, 2006
List Price: $24.96 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted December 19, 2006 | E-mail the Author
As a title, "Dreamland" tells us all we need to know. The movie floats along in a haze, drifting around the edges of reality. Its characters are adrift in life; they have come to Dreamland, a secluded trailer park in the middle of the New Mexico desert, to separate from the world, and they cannot move on in their lives until they wake up, in a sense, and leave for a better place.

The drama, from newcomers Jason Matzner (who directed) and Tom Willett (who scripted), also plays as a fascinating character study. Again, the word "Dreamland" comes into play, as one of the park's residents, a buxom blonde named Calista (Kelli Garner), is convinced she will one day become a beauty queen, and as such she spends her every waking hour preparing for, or at least talking about, future fame and glory. As aspirations go, it sure beats her former dream, being a "princess spy."

Calista also has MS yet becomes attached to a number of questionable cures - walking into a fury of bees (the venom from the stings helps the pain, we're told), grabbing onto a power line (ailing travelers come from far and wide to visit the area's electric fence and its supposed healing powers) - as part of a deep-rooted denial.

At her side is Audrey (Agnes Brucker), an ace student and master poet who's been accepted to every major college in the nation, although she's refusing to go to any of them, as she wants to stay home and care for both her father (John Corbett) and Calista. (Why she applied to so many schools in the first place, then, becomes one of the script's more aggravating plot holes.) Audrey's agoraphobic dad, you see, is still mourning the loss of his wife, and he's come to Dreamland to drown his sorrows in a fog of booze and pot.

New to the park is a former rock star (Gina Gershon), her adoring boyfriend (Chris Mulkey), and her son Mookie (Justin Long). While Mookie's mom is battling a nasty case of stage fright, he's recovering from an injury that ended his chances at a basketball career. (You'd think being Justin Long would ruin his chances at a basketball career, but such is casting.)

It's a lot to take in without balking at the obviousness of it all - the broken dreams, the isolation of the park, the sense of community that forms among these lost souls. The occasional use of Audrey's poetry via voiceover is a pretentious, sloppy move. And then the screenplay drops the ball by putting a major character in the hospital for instant, clich├ęd dramatic conflict (surprisingly, it has nothing to do with MS) that leaves too much of the third act coming dangerously close to soap opera territory, what with a love triangle brewing between the three teens and all.

And yet, at times, "Dreamland" can be quite captivating. The cast is an effective one, allowing the inner pain of the characters to come through without overdoing it. They - and I do mean the entire cast - bring a heft to the proceedings, keeping the story grounded throughout its multiple flights of fancy.

Add to this Matzner's trancelike direction, which allows the movie to coast along on the desert breeze. Although a rookie, he has a clear eye for notable visuals (check out that massive New Mexico sky) and a true understanding of how to let the pacing of the story play out on its own terms. "Dreamland" is never rushed, but neither is it draggy. I'm reminded of last year's festival hit, "Off the Map," which also showcased a family removed from society; "Dreamland" doesn't quite capture the lyrical beauty of that haunting film, but it does deliver enough moments to shine on its own terms.

A selection at the this year's Sundance and several other film fests, "Dreamland" failed to nab a theatrical run and thus winds up going direct to video. Perhaps this is for the best; while some of its visuals are built for the big screen, its story and characters are more low key and intimate, and play out quite fine on a smaller scale.

The DVD

Video


One of the movie's best assets is its cinematography, and this anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is pretty darn gorgeous, crisp and vibrant in all the right ways.

Audio

The soundtrack is delivered in Dolby 5.1, although this talk-heavy feature doesn't require much in terms of surround sound. Still, it's a solid mix, properly showcasing the film's evocative musical score. Optional English subtitles are offered.

Extras

None, unless you count the handful of previews for other Sony releases (some of which play when you load the DVD).

Final Thoughts

The cast is solid, the characters fascinating, the direction notable, the story shaky. It's well worth seeing, but only once. Rent It.
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