DREAM SCENARIO | VVS Films | November 24, 2023
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera
Directed By: Kristoffer Borgli
Hapless family man Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams. But when his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate his newfound stardom, in this wickedly entertaining comedy from writer-director Kristoffer Borgli (Sick of Myself) and producer Ari Aster.
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Dream Scenario features a magnificent lead performance from Nicolas Cage, delivering one of the best performances of his career, combined with a hilarious and fascinating story that tackles fame and cancel culture in today’s society, making for one film that has to be seen to be believed.
If there is one actor who could pull off a story that sounds this bizarre on paper, it is none other than Nicolas Cage. Over the past decade, Cage has taken smaller roles that have pushed his abilities as an actor, resulting in some unforgettable, more unique smaller films like The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent and Pig. His latest role, as a man who begins to appear in the dreams of millions, might be the wildest role he has taken on in recent memory. But it is also one of the most suited roles for him because Cage has the perfect on screen personality to pull off this peculiar role, and does so with an earnestness that makes for one of the finest performances of his distinguished career.
Paul Matthews is your average individual: a father of two, happily married to his wife, and teaching at the local university. There is nothing remarkable about him… until Paul begins to appear in the dreams of millions of strangers. It turns Paul’s life upside down, making him an instant celebrity, but when the dreams begin to turn into nightmares, Paul must grapple with the consequences of his new found stardom.
While on the surface the film tells the story of Paul and the consequences of his instant fame, there is a deeper examination of modern society that forms the crux of the story. In this digital age, individuals can become famous overnight, and disappear or be turned on just as quickly. With Paul’s instant fame, Kristofer Borgli examines fame in the modern era, what qualifies for notoriety and how quickly it can come about; cancel culture, and the mob mentality of society in our technologically driven times. The screenplay features insightful writing, simultaneously poking fun at the phenomena that Paul experiences, while shining the spotlight on everything backwards with how society reacts to certain events today. It’s razor sharp writing that packs lots of laugh out loud moments, certain to have audiences erupting into laughter throughout the film, but with an eye for the darkness that is inherent in the story that echoes the works of producer Ari Aster. Being an A24 film, it is peculiar in style and tone, capturing the indie feel that has helped make it the powerhouse studio for artistic vision it is today, but is easily one of the more accessible titles that can be widely enjoyed largely thanks to Cage’s performances.
There is no question, but the highlight of this film and main reason to see it is the lead performance of Cage as Paul. It’s a stranger than fiction character for Cage to portray, but he does so with a brilliance that rings loud and clear throughout the film. He captures the mundane nature of Paul, his simple approach to life that is anything but notable with an ease. So once Paul begins appearing in everyone’s dreams, Cage finds an authentic reaction to the overnight celebrity he becomes, reveling in the attention Paul always wanted before but never got. Throughout the film, there is a tenderness that Cage instills in Paul that makes his character instantly likable, helping to create a heartbreak in the film’s latter half where his dreamlike shot to stardom becomes a life ruining nightmare. His comedic timing is impeccable, creating some truly laugh out loud moments throughout the film that will have full theatres erupting into collective laughter at the craziness that has become Paul’s life. At the same time, Cage gives Paul a slight taste of being unhinged and outrageous as he leans into his new found notoriety, showcasing the darker elements of Borgli’s critique on society and helping to create one of the most unforgettable original characters of the year. It’s a tour de force performance from Cage from start to finish, displaying a comedic genius that makes for a truly landmark performance.
While there is no stealing the spotlight from Cage’s sensational performance, the rest of the cast makes for some memorable turns. None more so than Julianne Nicholson as Paul’s wife Janet. There is a sweetness to Janet that Nicholson encompasses throughout the film as she gets excited for her husband’s new found celebrity persona that opens up the door for her career, while also cautiously approaching the situation as she can see the effects it is having on not only Paul, but her entire family. It’s a quiet turn from Nicholson that showcases her talents as an actor, continuing a hot streak of excellent performances following her supporting roles in Mare of Easttown and I, Tonya. Michael Cera, Nicholas Braun, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula and Noah Centino each have small but wonderful moments in the film, fueling the comedic craziness of Borgli’s story, whether it be Gelula’s uncomfortably outrageous encounter with Paul in her character’s dream, or Braun’s hysterical infomercial appearance.
There is no denying the star power that Nicolas Cage brings to a film, and it is on full display and used to perfection in Dream Scenario. Thanks to an unforgettably unique and hilarious story, combined with one of the finest performances of Nicolas Cage’s distinguished career in a role he was born to play, Dream Scenario is every bit as funny and strange that you could hope for, resulting in another impressive film from A24.