a bald white Nicolas Cage stands near a car with the word Loser spray painted on it
Dream Scenario Credit: A24

There is nothing special about Paul Matthews, an average, often boring professor of evolutionary science who routinely lulls his family and students to sleep. On the other hand, Dream Scenario is truly something special, a playful and clever (but not too clever) comedy from Norwegian film director Kristoffer Borgli. Both are anything but perfect, but they’ll linger in your mind. 

Nicolas Cage is Paul Matthews. Before watching the movie, it was hard to imagine the charismatic and intense front man playing a mild-mannered John Doe. In almost every way, Paul is the purest embodiment of quotidian life, cycling through the motions and working endlessly to unattainable goals. That is, until he wanders into thousands of strangers’ dreams. 

Dream Scenario opens in a dream, specifically Paul’s daughter Sophie’s (Lily Bird) dream. Items like keys and a shoe come crashing down around them, and soon after, she floats into the sky, yelling for help. All the while, Paul stays calm, raking the leaves with a vague smile on his face. At that moment, she wakes up. His daughter relays it to him the next morning, and he fixates on his apparent lack of empathy. (It’s a hint at Paul’s dormant ego.) Turns out, he’s popping up in thousands of other dreams, doing nothing. This includes an old flame who writes an article about him repeatedly stumbling in her dream, and overnight, he becomes a global sensation, his anonymity forever shattered. At first, he’s beloved—ad execs, played by Kate Berlant and Michael Cera, beg him to do a Sprite commercial. Then suddenly, dream Paul becomes violent, and just like that, real Paul is public enemy number one. 

Three-fourths of Dream Scenario delivers a nuanced, not overplayed commentary on our egos, puncturing the duality of our private lives with our public personas. Mixed with stellar performances from Cage and Julianne Nicholson—playing Paul’s wife Janet—and a well-toned surrealistic basis, the film is a raucous delight. Unfortunately, the last quarter is too transparent, untying what would’ve been the longest-lasting allure. That said, Dream Scenario is a real feat for Borgli, where a good comedy is few and far between. R, 102 min.

Wide release in theaters

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