×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Mean Dreams’

The shadow of 'Badlands' falls a little too long over Nathan Morlando's initially promising but fatally derivative teens-on-the-run thriller.

With:
Josh Wiggins, Sophie Nélisse, Bill Paxton, Colm Feore, Vickie Papavs. (English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5160928/?ref_=nm_flmg_com_1

No sooner had Terrence Malick taken up the terse, parched genre poetry of “Badlands” in 1973 than he abandoned it in favor of lusher cinematic experimentation. Perhaps he knew that in the ensuing half-century, more than enough eager imitators would keep that style in regular, albeit less revelatory, rotation. Which brings us to “Mean Dreams,” an unconvincing, autumn-clothed youth-in-peril thriller so in thrall to Malick’s debut that even the cadence of its title seems a homage.

Notwithstanding its decorous widescreen shots of rippling grass and drying laundry, Canadian helmer Nathan Morlando’s sophomore feature seems at first to have a soul of its own as it sketches the sweet, immediate bond between two lonely teens in a yellowed belt of unspecified American farmland. But as the film pulls them into a hot-and-hoary plot involving corrupt cops, motel hideouts, a mustachioed Bill Paxton and (what else?) a duffel bag full of stolen cash, the weaknesses of Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby’s script come to the fore, as does the relative stylistic thinness of Morlando’s wholewheat Americana — which falls short even of the superior Malick pastiche of David Lowery’s 2013 “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” which likewise played in Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. While this festival strand has proven a successful launchpad for hard-boiled U.S.-set genre fare in recent years, “Mean Dreams” may prove neither mean enough nor dreamy enough to attract major distributor attention.

The element likeliest to rouse viewers from the snoozier stretches of “Mean Dreams” is 17-year-old Josh Wiggins, an actor whose unsmoothed, plucky presence already stood out in 2014’s Sundance coming-of-ager “Hellion.” Here, playing well-meaning but rash-acting farm boy Jonas, he demonstrates soft charm to match his concentrated rebel spirit; his face now carries an endearingly thoughtful, Alden Ehrenreich-style mien. He can’t do much with some of the script’s most lumpily inauthentic dialogue — “You wouldn’t know an angel if you beat on one,” he says to an enemy in a notably feeble attempt at trash-talking — but he does give viewers a sincerely expressive romantic hero to root for.

When shy girl Casey (Sophie Nélisse, less prodigiously poised here than in “Monsieur Lazhar” and “The Book Thief”) moves in next door with her father, menacing local police officer Wayne (Bill Paxton), Jonas falls fast and hard for her. Swiftly ascertaining the abusive nature of her home life, he resolves to rescue her — though Wayne isn’t having any of it, taking violent warning-off action against his daughter’s quietly resilient suitor. Unwittingly, however, he also provides Jonas with the means for the chaste young lovers’ escape plan: While hiding out in Wayne’s truck, the boy witnesses a corrupt drug deal, and promptly makes off with the sack of banknotes that Wayne coolly collects from the exchange.

Needless to say, Jonas and Casey — accompanied, for maximum love-on-the-run adorability, by her trusty old mutt Blaise — don’t get much of a head start before Wayne, in cahoots with an equally crooked sheriff (Colm Feore), comes hurtling after them. He’s hungry in his pursuit, though perhaps not as much so as Paxton, who guzzles the leafy backwoods scenery with gurning, shrill vigor; for better or worse, he’s on a far campier wavelength than this otherwise earnest exercise in criminal lyricism.

The protracted cat-and-mouse game that ensues is riddled with obstacles, close calls and emotive, gun-toting confrontations, but little tension is rustled up through it all — save for one sweatily ratcheted chase sequence, scored in rattling percussive fashion by gifted composer Son Lux, that surrenders too soon and too easily to calm. The denouement, while departing from the playbook of “Badlands” and its ilk, nonetheless feels preordained.

The join-the-bullet-holes nature of “Mean Dreams'” storytelling would be less of a problem if the characterization were a little more textured, but for all the picturesque anguish on display, the febrile messiness of actual human life is little in evidence. Jonas and Casey remain sympathetic purely on the level of circumstance, with little sense given of what fuels their love beyond the ideal of love itself. Casey, iron-willed or helpless as required by the script, is a particularly faint etching, despite Nélisse’s occasionally impassioned efforts, while her father’s unvaried evil goes mostly unexamined.

Despite its vague U.S. setting, this Canuck-shot production functions most flatteringly as an advertisement for the Ontario Film Commission, with the area’s fogged-mirror lakes and rusty fall foliage providing cinematographer Steve Cosens with his most postcard-ready shots. Elsewhere, meanwhile, Morlando and Cosens’ studied off-center compositions and oatmeal-on-rye palette make no secret of their Andrew Wyeth aspirations, though the film’s images remain more scenic than they are emotionally evocative.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Mean Dreams'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 15, 2016. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production: (Canada) An Elevation Pictures presentation of a Woods Entertainment production in association with Euclid 431, Sugar Shack Prods., Project AMB, Tip-Top Prods., JoBro Prods. & Film Finance. (International sales: Mister Smith, London.) Produced by William Woods, Allison Black. Executive producers, Rob McGillivray, Patrice Théroux, Jonathan Bronfman, Tom Spriggs, André Bharti. Co-producers, Chris Hatcher, Joel Burch.

Crew: Directed by Nathan Morlando. Screenplay, Kevin Coughlin, Ryan Grassby. Camera (color, widescreen), Steve Cosens; editors, Ronald Sanders, Sandy Pereira; music, Son Lux; production designer, Zosia Mackenzie; art director, John O'Regan; costume designer, Marissa Schwartz; sound, Neil McIntyre; supervising sound editor, Noam Shpiegler; re-recording mixers, Keith Elliott, Rudy Michael; stunt coordinator, Eric Bryson; line producer, Chris Hatcher; associate producers, Courtenay Bainbridge, Rosalie Chilelli, Andrew Shea; assistant director, Shea; casting, Angela Demo.

With: Josh Wiggins, Sophie Nélisse, Bill Paxton, Colm Feore, Vickie Papavs. (English dialogue)

More Film

  • Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote

    Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote Variety Innovate Summit

    “The Big Bang Theory” co-creator and TV producer Chuck Lorre and the head of Netflix Films Scott Stuber will keynote Variety’s Innovate Summit presented by PwC on Dec. 5 in Los Angeles. Lorre will share the career experiences that lead to his co-creating and executive producing “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon” and “Mom.” Lorre’s extensive [...]

  • John Williams poses on the red

    'Star Wars' Composer John Williams Nabs 71st Grammy Nom 58 Years After His First

    Composer John Williams received two Grammy nominations, as announced yesterday, bringing his grand total to 71 nominations, with 24 wins to date. Williams was nominated in the composing and arranging field. His “Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite,” written for the new “Star Wars”-themed park at Disneyland, was nominated for best instrumental composition, while his arrangement of [...]

  • Rian Johnson'Knives Out' premiere, BFI London

    Rian Johnson on 'Knives Out,' 'Star Wars' and Toxic Fandom

    Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is a wickedly funny, fiendishly clever, and surprisingly prescient murder mystery. It succeeds as both a brilliantly constructed puzzle-box of a whodunit, offering up a big reveal that’s extremely satisfying, and as a incisive comment on the class divisions and prejudice that are roiling America. If that sounds medicinal, fear not. [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins Best Film at Asia Pacific Screen Awards

    Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which earlier this year won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, on Thursday added the Asia Pacific Screen Award for best film to its burgeoning trophy cabinet. “Parasite” producer Jang Young-hwan was on hand to accept the award at the end of a ritzy ceremony in Brisbane, Australia. The APSAs, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 6

    British Directors Guild Issues Guidelines for Filming Nudity and Simulated Sex

    Directors UK, the professional guild for screen directors in Britain, has launched guidelines for directing nude and simulated sex scenes to prevent unprofessional conduct in film and TV. Described as the “first of their kind in the U.K.,” the new guidelines “are born of the need to set clear and shared professional expectations that apply [...]

  • People attend the opening ceremony of

    Korean Festival Selectors Resign Over Programming Independence Complaint

    Three programmers who have headed the Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea’s second largest festival, resigned en masse on Tuesday. They say they are protesting the encroachment on their independence by the board of directors and city authorities. The three – Kim Young-jin, Lee Sang-yong and Jang Byeong-won – have led the Jeonju film festival [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content