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August 25, 2023 / levelFilm

Starring: Casey Affleck, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Jupe, Jack Dylan Grazer, Beau Bridges, Walton Goggins, Chris Messina

Directed By: Bill Pohlad

Dreamin’ Wild, the true story of love and redemption, is about what happened to singer/songwriter Donnie Emerson and his family when the album he and his brother recorded as teens was rediscovered after thirty years of obscurity and was suddenly hailed by music critics as a lost masterpiece. While the album’s rediscovery brings hopes of second chances, it also brings long-buried emotions as Donnie, his wife Nancy, brother Joe, and father Don Sr. come to terms with the past and their newly found fame.

Written By Darren

Rating 3 out of 5

Dreamin’ Wild may have the usual hallmarks and thematic materials of the music biopic genre, but the unique story of Donnie and Joe Emerson and Casey Affleck’s lead performance are enough to make this an intriguing watch for anyone interested in rounding out their music knowledge.

Music biopics hinge on the familiarity the audience has with the musician at the center of the film and the impact their musical had on pop culture. The bigger the artist and their impact, the more interested the audience is in finding out about their origins and path to becoming the musician we know them as today. This is why films centered around Elton John, Elvis, and Queen have been box office sensations and drawn major critical acclaim for the portrayal of these music superstars. However, the latest music biopic goes against the grain and highlights Donnie and Joe Emerson, two brothers and a musical duo from the 1970s whose work was largely unknown until it was rediscovered this century and gathered a following decades after its initial release. It’s an interesting story, but it does not have the wide appeal that the jukebox music biopics have had in recent memory, making this a film that is going to connect with fans of the Emersons and not the more casual viewer.

The film has an interesting story to tell, as typically musicians become famous when their music is released and it is passed down through the generations, such as artists like ABBA and The Beatles. But the story of Donnie and Joe Emerson is the opposite, which is a nice hook for the music biopic as it is an artist that the audience is likely going to know very little about. Playing out over two timelines, the film tells the music origins of the Emersons and follows them and their family as their music is rediscovered decades later. It plays out from the view of Donnie Emerson, showing his struggle coming to terms with his past and his desire for perfection, and how the strive to become a famous musician affected him and his family. In terms of thematic material, it covers similar territory that most music biopics cover, but it is interesting to see the future timeline and the effects and reflection on their initial music breakout as it is a perspective that is not often enough shown in these films which are often told in chronological order (and sadly too often posthumously). And while the music is not bad, it does not have the recognition that other biopic’s music has, which works slightly against the film as the music sequences do not evoke specific memories and emotions in the audience that the usual music biopic of a more notable musician would.

While the story is interesting but does not break new ground for the music biopic genre, the film relies on the performances to carry it from start to finish. Casey Affleck does a very good job in the lead role of Donnie Emerson, creating an empathetic and conflicted character haunted by his past and trying to come to terms with the effect it has had on his familial relationships. It is the usual moody role that Affleck is often cast in, but he does such a good job of exactly what is asked of him, creating the backbone of the film’s story. Zooey Deschanel is a delight as always as Donnie’s partner Nancy, while Beau Bridges is a warm and guiding light as Donnie and Joe’s father Don Sr. The flashbacks feature Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer as young Donnie and Joe respectively, and while their roles are not as meaty as their adult counterparts, both of them capture the youthful talent that is the spark for the film’s story. But aside from Affleck’s role, the rest of the roles in the film are very supporting and do not have the amount of screentime to make a lasting impression on the film.

There is nothing wrong with Dreamin’ Wild: it is an interesting story told through a good screenplay with a strong lead performance to guide the film from start to finish. However, the lesser known musical stars at the center of the story makes it less accessible to wider audiences unless this is a specific genre of music that they like or if they are fans of Donnie and Joe Emerson. With a talented cast led by Casey Affleck and featuring good supporting turns from Zoey Deschanel and Beau Bridges, Dreamin’ Wild is an interesting music biopic that sheds light on a lesser known and intriguing true story even if it lacks the notoriety of the majority of music biopics that are runaway successes.

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