Starring: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Tim Meadows, Dylan Baker, Kate Berlant, Dylan Gelula, and Michael Cera
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Whatever you want to call this phase of Nicolas Cage’s career, it is by far the most interesting. With films like Mandy, Pig, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and Renfield, he's been running the genre gamut. His latest, Dream Scenario, is a surreal comedy where everyone constantly dreams about Cage's Paul Matthews. As the phenomenon goes on, Cage is able to carry both the humour and horror elements, but the gag can become a little repetitive. As much as I enjoyed the film, there’s been a nagging “what if?” for alternate directions to take things, a thought that haunts me whenever I close my eyes.
Now, I'm not saying I don't dream about Nicolas Cage on a regular basis, but Dream Scenario takes that idea to new extremes. Cage puts a new spin on his holds-nothing-back persona for more laid-back chaos in a film that's wildly funny yet thought-provoking. Its commentary on cancel culture offers mixed results, but its stance on the current state of fame hits hard. The absurdism of the plot is very entertaining, but by the third act, it wears a little thin. Still, Dream Scenario is fun and poignant, and who doesn't love some Cage mayhem?
Dream Scenario is half absurdist comedy and half surreal horror, which gives Nic Cage multiple opportunities to show his impressive range…and show it he does. He nails what is asked of him on both sides of the coin, carrying a story that delivers timely messages on the consequences of fame and cancel culture (even if it struggles to adequately fill the entire 100-minute runtime). More interestingly, though, Scenario is an incredibly layered metaphor for the Memeification of Cage, touching on the idea in a more intelligent and cerebral way than The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Overall, another winner that furthers Cage’s current hot streak.
Dream Scenario is somehow everything I wanted it to be and more than I bargained for. Its nightmare logic, dark satire, and focus on a character who is the victim of his impotence reminded me of Beau is Afraid and Adaptation, mixed with the surreal horror of Midsommar and Men. Continuing a trend of impressive performances in indie genre films, Nicolas Cage is perfect as the boring professor, bringing an unruly combination of painful awkwardness, pitiful innocence, and undeserved entitlement. It’s funny, genuinely unsettling, and ambitious in its approach to themes of cancel culture and the nature of social media fame.
Dream Scenario is hilariously uncomfortable, featuring some of the most excruciatingly awkward scenes of the year. It’s definitely funny, but it gets surprisingly tragic at times. If you’re expecting a quirky comedy, you might find it a little too dour for your liking. However, I appreciated the script’s emotional maturity. Director Kristoffer Borgli presents a nuanced study of stardom and the detrimental effects it can have on one’s self-perception, highlighting how fame can shine a harsh light on someone’s worst attributes. With creative visuals, a razor sharp script, and an outstanding Nicolas Cage performance, Dream Scenario stands out as one of 2023’s finest comedies.
Dream Scenario is an allegorical look at society as a whole that is so successful that it’s easy to feel depressed regarding our own current “scenario.” I, regrettably, exacerbated the issue by heading directly to Costco at its conclusion, which solidified my position as a cynical curmudgeon. Nicolas Cage is fantastic, and the more I watch him, the more I feel he is one of the most self-aware actors in the game. I will never watch Dream Scenario again, but only because it's near impossible to revisit due to how effectively it delivers its message.
This film was reviewed by Adriano, Nick, and Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2023 Zurich Film Festival, respectively.