directed by Jason Matzner
(Sony, 2006)

This is an odd sort of film -- simplistic yet profound, sad yet somehow uplifting. There's a slight edge of surreality to the whole story, but the characters couldn't be more human. Dreamland left me feeling a bit odd and slightly out of sorts, but in a good way. It's as if I expected some kind of enlightenment to break through the clouds in the final moments, and the fact that this didn't happen strikes me as somehow profound.

You might recognize the lead actress from the film The Woods, but I've been a fan of Agnes Bruckner ever since I saw her in Rick (another indie film that deserves more attention). It's true I have a thing for redheads, but this young lady can act, and she has the kind of magical persona that only the greatest actresses are born with. Watching her in Dreamland, I saw some real similarities with Angelina Jolie in her facial expressions and sheer power of presence. It's an all-too-rare treat to see a great actress at work, and I can only hope that Bruckner gets the kinds of roles she deserves in the years ahead -- she's really something special.

Not to be outdone is Kelli Garner, who turns in an impassioned, subtly exquisite performance as Calista, an ethereal beauty who dreams of becoming Miss America even as she lives with the knowledge and fear of being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Dreamland, it turns out, is a trailer park out in the middle of the desert. The small number of inhabitants makes up a surprisingly strong community, but the deepest bond is between Audrey (Bruckner) and Calista (Garner). It's a really confusing time for Audrey, who has just graduated from high school. Not only does she have her best friend to worry about, she also has to help take care of her father. Henry (played brilliantly by John Corbett) has never gotten over his wife's death. Not only does he spend most of his time drinking, he has not been able to leave the trailer park in over two years. He's emotionally and psychologically unable to take even a few steps outside Dreamland. Audrey is a smart girl who secretly wants to go to college, but she puts her own dreams aside, believing that her father and Calista need her to stay.

Audrey really begins to unravel following the arrival of new neighbors -- specifically, Mookie (Justin Long). True friend that she is, she sets Mookie up with Calista, then finds herself tormented by her own love for the guy. Obviously, Audrey's friendship with Calista will be tested by this unfortunate love triangle, setting in motion a series of events that ultimately change the lives of all the main characters.

As an aside, I have to ask why so many of today's young actors (e.g., Long) look like junior versions of David Schwimmer. Isn't one Schwimmer more than enough for all of us? And Mookie? Unless your character plays centerfield for the New York Mets, why would you call him Mookie? Obviously, I'm no Justin Long fan, but Dreamland really isn't about him, anyway. It's about friendship, love, sacrifice, hopes, dreams and all the other things that make us human -- and it's truly a wonderful little story. Hollywood doesn't make nearly enough films like this.

review by
Daniel Jolley

15 September 2007

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