Nicolas Cage isn’t afraid to take big swings. This much is evident. In the past few years, he has gone from playing Dracula to Superman, from a janitor in Willy’s Wonderland to himself in the meta comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. It has been a long time since Cage has completely lost himself in a role, however, becoming almost unrecognizable and not leaning on what have been defined as Nic Cage Tics in his performances. They’re evident in the 5 roles Cage thinks are his favorite, but nowhere to be found in Dream Scenario, a highly original comedy produced by Ari Aster (Hereditary, Midsommar) that’s executed with courage and wit by Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli.
What would happen if a fairly invisible man suddenly was recognized by everyone? Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) is a dweeby, anxious college professor with an indifferent wife (Julianne Nicholson) and two teenage daughters who barely acknowledge his existence. But gradually, Paul starts to learn that he’s appearing in people’s dreams. First, his younger daughter tells of a dream where items – keys, a shoe – are falling from the sky. Paul is in the dream, but does nothing to help his child out. Next, Paul encounters an ex-girlfriend who also confesses that she’s been dreaming of Paul. And slowly, the phenomenon of nocturnal recognition spreads.
This is a bit of an ego boost for Paul, as he’s suddenly getting attention from his students, his colleagues, and even the media. Paul can’t explain how this is happening, though he’s visibly perturbed by the fact that he’s so passive in these dreams. He wonders why he can’t be doing something more exciting in the dreams, and as he hears the bizarre situations that are happening when people sleep, it seems that all Paul does in the dreams is observe.
While Paul relishes this sudden uptick in popularity, his life begins to spiral out of control. It’s here where Kristoffer Borgli’s screenplay starts to reach for surreal territories once occupied by Cage’s own Adaptation, the imaginative Being John Malkovich, and the challenging (but rewarding) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Dreaming up a premise like Dream Scenario is one thing. But executing it is the real challenge, which Borgli and his leading man successfully crack. There are several creative ways that Dream Scenario takes us inside the heads of the people dreaming about Paul, and Cage relishes the abstract freedom permitted by the unusual situations the script puts him into. Even when the movie takes a bizarre turn with the introduction of an advertising executive (Michael Cera) who wants to utilize Paul’s newfound gift, Borgli manages to keep this train on its track (not as easy a task as you might imagine).
The main takeaway, though, is Cage, who hasn’t been this impressive with his acting since Pig. And even here, it’s more of a gamble to turn himself over to the lunacy powering Dream Scenario. But Cage has plenty of experience tightrope walking across a bizarre premise, and even finding ways to ground the illusion so we find a stronger buy in.
Dream Scenario is a revelation. It’s my current favorite film at TIFF 2023, and something special will have to come around to dethrone it.
Also from the Toronto International Film Festival:
Dumb Money makes the stock market understandable.
Anna Kendrick shines in her directorial debut Woman Of The Hour.
And the guys from Nickelback come across as nice guys in their new documentary.