Poor direction and a hollow script tarnish this well-meaning coming-of-age dramedy.
I Dream Too Much
There’s nothing inherently wrong with breezy, lighthearted entertainment. In the right hands, a small-scale story populated by sympathetic faces has the capacity to deliver big-time charm. Of course, the issue comes in when an airy aesthetic is all a film has to offer; a quirky lead and thin plot strands substituting for real personality and substance. I Dream Too Much suffers from such faults. Its total lack of energy and tired attempts at fleshing out the skeleton of a familiar tale with half-baked themes of self-empowerment results in a lifeless experience that evaporates as soon as the curtain falls.
Our protagonist is eccentric twenty-something Dora (Eden Brolin). She is the one who “dreams too much.” Pressured by her mother (Christina Rouner) to take the LSAT and become a prosperous lawyer, she languishes in the wintry New Jersey suburbs, obsessively fantasizing about fabulous, far away places and the excitement they’d surely bring. Upon hearing of her Great Aunt Vera’s (Diane Ladd) foot injury, she volunteers to help, only to find a stubborn, tough-to-please diva in an unbearably quiet town. Through dull housework, spontaneous storytelling and martini-drenched evenings, the relationship is hot and cold, but Dora finds an outlet in her frustrated poetic scribblings, romantic daydreams and the laughs shared with a new, like-aged friend (Danielle Brooks). The discovery of Vera’s glamorous past reinvigorates the bond between Great Aunt and Great Niece, and the two begin working together in an effort to get past their personal and poetic muddles.
For a film so lighthearted, it’s surprising that I Dream Too Much is as lifeless as it is. The direction by first-time helmer Katie Cokinos is really what’s to blame. Most scenes have an uncomfortably dead air about them as characters stand around awkwardly listening to each other speak, their fake half-smiles and darting eyes straining for an ounce of guidance. Additionally, there’s an absence of effective blocking to provide some relief from the stagey dialogue (which is frequently derailed by Dora’s trivial squeaky-voiced ramblings).
Cokinos (who also wrote the film) attempts to inject some vitality into the events in different ways, but she is rarely successful. While functioning in part as a drama, it’s the comedy that has the greatest presence, and it hardly ever works. Weak sort-of-punch-lines paired with sub-par acting create what often feels like a cringe-worthy sitcom without the laugh track. What ensues are fruitless games of spot-the-joke.
Also hoping to start a heartbeat of some kind is a series of transitional interludes. These are the only times when the smiley, guitar-strumming soundtrack appears, and while the sequences are probably the movie’s most visually engaging moments, I cannot reconcile the notion that they don’t do anything but establish setting and give the false impression of an emotional landscape taking shape.
Diane Ladd is perhaps the film’s only saving grace. Although she occasionally stoops to slight overacting, her performance is the kind of assured turn that only an experienced vet like herself could give. Ladd’s comedic timing is great and she fully sells the character of this sardonic, swaggering old woman harboring hidden insecurities.
Unfortunately, a single solid performance is not capable of elevating the film beyond its larger problems. As previously stated, I Dream Too Much is excessively light, but not in a purely stylistic sense. It busies itself with several plot elements and fails to give the proper attention to any of them. One conveniently presented subplot deals with a famous local music producer (James McCaffrey) and another has to do with Vera’s old journals. Meanwhile, Dora’s 19th century gothic novel-inspired daydreams come and go with little impact and a dramatic device regarding her dead father lingers in the background. Each of these components is shallowly addressed and whatever conflict arises is generally resolved with improbable rapidity. Voice-over narration and cutaways to Dora’s handwritten couplets struggle to express complex coming-of-age dilemmas and when a film can’t even engage you on a conceptual level, let alone a story level, the only thing that resonates by the end is a feeling of emptiness.
I hate to rag on a film of such innocent intentions, but I Dream Too Much forces my hand. It ventures to evoke a few laughs while telling a story about taking responsibility and living on your own terms. These are noble messages to send, for sure, but oblivious direction and careless writing ruins it. Like its main character, film has its head firmly stuck in the clouds. Do yourself a favor and remain earthbound on this one.