Film Review: Mean Dreams

“We’re inventing the wheel!” should have been the motto of the team which put forth this dreary, predictable saga of challenged young lovers on the run.
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As if the election of Donald Trump weren’t enough, here comes Nathan Morlando’s Mean Dreams to remind us all that things are bad in the heartland of this here good ole U.S. of A. Seventeen-year-old Jonas (Josh Wiggins) is in love with his next-door neighbor, Casey (Sophie Nélisse), but she is in the thrall of her hot-tempered, abusive father, Wayne (the late Bill Paxton), a local police officer. Jonas makes it his mission to rescue her, and while trying to do so, hiding out in Wayne’s car, he sees his enemy involved in a drug deal, snatches the duffle bag of cash from such nefariousness, and makes off with Casey. Wayne and an equally corrupt sheriff (Colm Feore) pursue them relentlessly down a myriad of dust-curdled country roads.

In film, it all begins on the page and, unfortunately, what screenwriters Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby have put there is unmitigated tripe. We have seen all of this many, many, many times before—the innocent country lovers caught in the headlights of dark fate, the shady lawmen, and a moratorium needs to be called on parental abuse in the movies already. The best that can be said for Morlando’s largely uninspired direction of Mean Dreams is that he keeps things moving—action is definitely his forte (just what American cinema needs, another such auteur)—although he ladles on the droningly intrusive Son Lux music in a way to only underline the weaknesses of his endeavor. A dog of a movie like this makes one appreciate something like Fritz Lang’s You Only Live Once all the more, with the radiantly gifted young Henry Fonda and Sylvia Sidney as the beleaguered couple on the run, which was harrowing and infinitely moving back in 1937, and just as much today.

Full disclosure: This writer went to NYU drama school with Paxton, the two of us cowering under the imposing shadow of our instructress, the redoubtable, legendary Stella Adler. I remember him as an affable, decent guy, something more than reiterated in all the paeans of personal praise he’s received posthumously. It’s rather a shame that he has to go out on such a weak note, with a performance that is largely hammy bombast as a totally vile character it must have been quite a stretch for him to essay. (And if he called Nélisse “Baby girl” one more time…) It’s refreshing to see a non-glamour girl as the young heroine, but Nélisse’s performance is decidedly lackluster. Wiggins is the one thing this film has going for it. Fresh-faced and indeed very fresh in his natural, organic performance choices, he deserves a screen outing more on par with his talent.

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