The most wonderful thing about cinema is that films are more than the script: they include the acting, the photography, the costumes, the set design, the blocking, the framing, the sound effects, the score and so much more. There are many masterpieces of cinematic achievement with ho-hum scripts. Dreamland, whose script could charitably be considered “underwhelming,” however, is not a film that transcends its cliché-ridden plot or underwritten characters.

Dreamland is the story of Eugene Evans (Finn Cole), a bored-out-of-his-head teenager in a dying town on the Texas Prairie at the height of the Dust Bowl. Eugene does not have much going on and spends most of his time reading graphic novels he boosted from the local five-and-dime. Fortunately for him, big and dramatic news blasts into town, as a fugitive lady bank robber, Allison Wells (Margot Robbie), whose latest heist left a pile of corpses behind her, is suspected of making her escape through Eugene’s two-bit town. Eugene, perhaps pumped up by the tales of heroic daring he so voraciously consumes in his novels, decides he can capture Wells and use the $10,000 bounty to save his family from Depression-era financial ruin. Of course, it is in the Evans family barn that Wells decides to hole up and recover and of course it is Eugene who is the one to find her. Now Eugene has to decide whether to turn her in or help her escape: what would the heroes of his stories do?

What ensues from this perfectly good setup is a dull and lifeless film. The script does not give any of the characters much to do, Cole’s Eugene is completely vacuous and all of the tension the film generates is ham-fisted and puerile. More importantly, the film leaps with full conviction into plot hole after plot hole, illogical character decision after illogical character decision.

There are hundreds of wildly successful films with massive plot holes—look no further than the big tent-pole franchises—that get away with their poor narratives through fast pacing or exciting visuals. When plots rely on absurd convenience—like in the immensely popular “Queen’s Gambit” TV show when the phone rings each time the protagonist returns home and helpfully reveals the next plot point—audiences are easily charmed enough by the other elements of cinema to overlook it. Dreamland, instead, features a languid pace that only emphasizes that characters are not acting like actual people, the dialogue has nothing to say and the sets are designed with absolutely zero fidelity to story logic or the setting. It leaves space for the viewer to interrogate the film and find its answers unconvincing: how is it that minutes after the “worst storm our town had ever seen” characters are able to use the phone and the electric lights? How is it that Eugene’s family is desperately poor yet the house has every light on all day and all night, everyone eats well, everyone is dressed well and the family’s now-useless tractor in the barn has brand-new rubber tires (which did not even exist for tractors until 1933 and would certainly be beyond the means of a family as poor as the Evans are supposed to be). Ordinarily, a viewer would not notice the tractor tires, but because the film features multiple exchanges of wooden dialogue with either Eugene or Allison leaning against the tire, the viewer has nothing else to think about. The Evans children are not in school, so the viewer figures it is summer. Later in the film, a calendar in the background in a scene in a bank shows the date as September. Yet, in the closing moments of Dreamland, the narrator gives the date as April. The film is too empty of plot ideas and moves too slowly for the viewer to not notice these faults. Dreamland lacks the necessary excellence in non-script-related filmmaking to make up for its rote script.

Summary
Dreamland, whose script could charitably be considered “underwhelming,” is not a film that transcends its cliché-ridden plot or underwritten characters.
35 %
Coming-of-age Snore
  • The Best Films of 2020 (So Far)

    We hope this list inspires you to watch something tonight that you may have normally skipp…
  • Bombshell

    This is a coward’s picture that is about to spend a few months getting patted on the back,…
  • Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood

    Tarantino is a magician and in the making of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood he brings back …
  • Hearts and Bones

    Fortunately, someone somewhere is still funding these uplifting tales of the goodness of o…
  • Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams

    As a portrait of Japanese society, the film takes viewers into the seemingly crazy local c…
  • Red Pill: by Hari Kunzru

    A simply insufferable narrator ruins a fast-paced thriller. …
  • Oeuvre: David Cronenberg: Videodrome

    Videodrome’s brilliance comes from literalizing the unseen culture war waging at all times…
  • 76 Days

    A film about heroes whose faces we hardly see, battling an enemy even they can’t see, with…
  • Hillbilly Elegy

    An absurd mish-mash of thematic contradictions, terrible dialogue and overblown acting, th…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Hearts and Bones

Fortunately, someone somewhere is still funding these uplifting tales of the goodness of o…