By Daniella Nichinson, Staff Writer
Dim lights, the ivory keys of a ravishing grand piano and a full house. Unfortunately, this is only a dream for Monty Fagan (Johnny Simmons). In reality, he’s sitting next to a 10-year-old boy teaching him to play scales and “Chopsticks” for $25 an hour. How did he end up here? This is far from his desire to open a piano club of his own, where he can live out his starry fantasy. “Dreamland” is a film that’s up in the clouds, providing us with a world that is just as mystical as its title describes.
In his directorial debut, Robert Schwartzman proves that he is a filmmaker capable of raw emotion and scintillating imagery. Like the rest of the Schwartzman/Coppola family, he has a keen sense of storytelling and producing a script alongside Benjamin Font, with a protagonist viewers grow close to and side with. When Monty falls, we fall with him; when he rises to the top, so too do we.
“Dreamland” is a quirky and heartfelt tale. It goes against typical Hollywood narratives; this time, it is the younger man falling for the older femme fatale (Amy Landecker), rather than the graying older man chasing after the naïve young woman. To add to the peculiarity of his situation, Monty lives with his girlfriend in her mother’s (Beverly D’Angelo) house, where the three are forced to share a single bathroom. This isn’t the lifestyle Monty had in mind when he decided to become a pianist; he expected jazz clubs packed to the brim with listeners and a classy apartment of his own.
In his relationship with Olivia, Monty is quick in wanting to advance it further — an idea that isn’t very well developed. But perhaps this is representative of Monty’s youth, that his dissatisfaction with the turnout of his life has led him to be rash and act out of character. Both Simmons and Landecker excel in their roles and it is their performances that drive the film. Monty and Olivia’s relationship, though generally unhealthy, helps Monty gain new meaning in his life.
The cinematography is very pleasing to the eye. It is dreamy, entrancing even. Lighting up the surroundings, it brings a quality of liveliness to the film. By juxtaposing this lightness and Monty’s otherwise dreary life, it prevents the film from becoming too weighed down and inspires a bit of hope. Using the City of Angels as its background, “Dreamland” captures the setting in an, quite literally, angelic style.
Sometimes we need to experience something that we believe is good for us before we can understand that we do not actually want it. In “Dreamland,” Monty explores a side of himself that he was previously unfamiliar with, which allows him to see what direction he wants his life to go in. The film plays like a jazz piece: sometimes messy, but with the swing and rhythm that makes you want to snap your fingers and join in. It has its flaws, but it results in an idealistic romance that is too alluring to pass up.
“Dreamland” was released on Nov. 11, 2016 and is showing at the Cinema Village.