Nicolas Cage is at his best as an unlikely viral social media star in Dream Scenario

3 out of 5 stars

Shot partially in Montreal, Dream Scenario stars Nicolas Cage as a professor who begins to appear in people’s dreams. As the film opens, his daughter is dreaming. She’s by a pool, and something horrific happens. Her father Paul Matthews (Cage) stands by and watches. As she recounts the events at the breakfast table the next morning, her father reassures her that in the “real” world, he’d help her.

Paul is at a crossroads of his life and career; he’s just past middle-age, and though he’s a tenured professor, he has yet to achieve many of his goals. His voice is nasal, his confidence fragile. He yearns desperately to be special. Over the day, people start to notice him a little more. At first, it’s students whispering in his class. Next, it’s his hostess at a restaurant. Before long, for some mysterious reason, it turns out that he’s been popping up in people’s dreams, an ineffectual spectre. Overnight, he becomes an international social media star.

Dream Scenario half-works. Cage delivers one of his best performances as the fragile Paul Matthews, catapulting the film into a strange but believable world where entitlement drives him into despair and even ruin. The comedy is effective, notably as it contrasts expectations with reality (perfectly illustrated in some of the best fart gags in recent memory), and the absurdity of respect hinged solely on recognizability.

As the film progresses, it takes on more satirical elements as it charts the inevitable downfall of a viral social media star. Though occasionally insightful, the film’s second half lacks some of the steam of the film’s set-up. It hits some relatively easy targets and maintains too much ambiguity to be taken seriously. ■

Dream Scenario opens in Montreal at Cinéma du Parc on Friday, Nov. 24.

Dream Scenario (directed by Kristoffer Borgli)

This review was originally published as part of a TIFF 2023 roundup.

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