It hasn’t always been like this, but put Nicolas Cage’s name on a film and you’re giving audiences a powerful reason to come along and watch. Even when his career was looking decidedly shaky – the 2000s weren’t kind – there was still the occasional indie to remind us of his extraordinary magnetism on screen. Now we seem to be in a Nic-aissance: he’s played Dracula, a knowing parody of himself, the voice of Spiderman Noir, a former chef in search of his pig. What next? Easy. A balding bore.
Playing the almost colourless, socially awkward academic in Dream Scenario might sound like he’s turning his back on his more outlandish roles but director Kristoffer Borgli has placed him in a story that is 100% pure Cage. For no apparent reason, complete strangers start recognising him, despite his non-descript appearance. He’s been showing up in their dreams – not actually doing anything, just walking along oblivious to whatever’s happening. His face goes viral, he’s having his proverbial fifteen minutes of fame – until the dreams change radically, showing him as violent and destructive. Now he’s a social media sensation of the wrong sort. And a complete outcast.
Yes, Cage is doing ordinary – and they don’t come more unremarkable than his Paul Matthews, a college professor who keeps promising to write a book, can’t hold his students’ attention and is totally ineffectual. Just like in those dreams. And Borgli once again has social media in his sights (as in his previous Sick Of Myself), but in a more mainstream style. Michael Cera’s “creative genius” at the social media agency is enjoyably familiar, trying desperately to be cool in his backwards baseball cap but proving to be as short on inspiration as his client Paul. The director’s masterstroke is casting Cage in the central role, showing him in a completely different light. If you thought he was funny in The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, wait until you see him in this comedy of awkwardness, gleefully mixed with some almost childlike laughs. Let’s just say there’s a fart joke and leave it at that …..
In truth, the film starts to run out of steam in the third act and Borgli throws in new ideas and characters, most of which don’t stick (not even a cameo from Cousin Greg himself, Nicholas Braun, as a dream guru). Cage, on the other hand, continues to wander around amid the chaos, still the educated man at odds with the real world, but he introduces a welcome note of pathos that means he’s still holding on to our attention. Dream Scenario isn’t subtle – Paul as an influencer? Really? – but it is cringe-makingly absurd in the best possible way. And Cage is in a class of his own.
Comedy | UK cinemas, 10 November 2023 | Entertainment Film | Certificate: 15 | Dir. Kristoffer Borgli | Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Baker, Nicholas Braun.