A bittersweet little indie about Hollywood’s power to corrupt, co-opt and compromise, “Dreamers” reps a notable debut from Chinese native Ann Lu. Pic boasts visual poetry and unexpected irony that help compensate for an underdeveloped narrative. With a couple of fest dates under its belt, film is playing on one screen in L.A., but lacks the selling points to go much further.
Lu, who moved to the U.S. in 1993, uses her outsider’s perspective to craft a de-glamorized Hollywood that is disturbingly at odds with the fantasies nurtured by so many dreamers. Mildly reminiscent of the funnier, more incisive Kevin Bacon starrer “The Big Picture,” “Dreamers” aims not so much for satire as contemplation.
Opening with a look at Hollywood through the video camera and vocal musings of a movie-loving Asian tourist, “Dreamers” cuts jarringly to small-town Tennessee, where two boys concoct fantasies of going to California to make movies. Compared with their repressed, religious life in Jefferson City, Hollywood seems to hold all the answers. Lu’s opening makes for a persuasive juxtaposition, linked by common desires, dreams and misconceptions.
Cutting several years ahead, we find young adult Dave Jacobson (an unrecognizably nerdy Jeremy Jordan, the high school stud in “Never Been Kissed”) preparing to leave Jefferson City to join his childhood friend Ethan Mullane (Mark Ballou) in Hollywood. Making ends meet as a construction worker and dissatisfied Amway salesman, Ethan has spent five years trying to complete his untitled film. That film-within-a-film, through never fully described, is a sardonic commentary on Hollywood in which a panel of shrinks analyze a trio of young men suffering from Chronic Filmmaking Dream Syndrome, or CFDS.
Dave arrives to find Ethan disconsolate, the film’s lead actor (Brian Krause) having quit to accept a paying gig. For his part, Dave stumbles (inexplicably) onto a porn set, where he works briefly before getting fired.
In a desperate attempt to help Ethan find completion funds, Dave loses his virginity to a horny Beverly Hills housewife (Ruth de Sosa), but finds his efforts fruitless when the self-righteous Ethan refuses to give her a role.
Other vignettes feature a lovely coffeehouse manager (Portia Dawson), who may be the girl of Dave’s dreams, and a potential investor (Paul Bartel in one of his last roles) whose idea of a good business investment involves an X rating.
Woven through the film are fleeting washed-out flashbacks of Dave and Ethan’s childhood in rural Tennessee, interspersed with recurring images and voiceovers from the Asian man’s camcorder while he tours Hollywood. Much as they were at pic’s outset, these lyrical sequences are compelling in their unadorned honesty and ironic contrast.
Lu’s film rarely goes for the easy answer, and even the ending includes a couple of unpredictable moments. Given the material, pic has an appropriately low-tech look and feel.