22 December 2006 | gradyharp
Caring for Others, Taking Care of the Self
DREAMLAND is one of those little Indie films that sneaks up on you, draws you in and leaves you feeling fulfilled. Written by Tom Willett and directed with great sensitivity to both style and message by Jason Matzner, the film boasts a truly remarkable cast in every role and the ensemble acting is some of the finest in this year's lineup.
"Dreamland" is the name of a very small trailer park in New Mexico, out in the sticks, yes, but surrounded by the magnificence of majestic clouds in crystalline blue skies and a land free of industrial detritus - except for the powerlines that play such an important role in the story. In a sad trailer house live Audrey (Agnes Bruckner), a poet who has given up chances for college to remain with her father Henry (John Corbett), a man decimated by the death of his wife to the point that he is unable to leave the trailer even to buy the beer and cigarettes that sustain his life. Audrey also is caring for her closest friend Calista (Kelli Garner), a beautiful girl who dreams of becoming Miss America but knows her life is to be shortened by the fact that she suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Audrey writes her poetry but her life is consumed by being the caretaker for Henry and Calista.
Into the trailer park moves a new 'family' - hunky young Mookie (Justin Long) and his mother ex-singer/performer Mary (Gina Gershon) and her live-in boyfriend Herb (Chris Mulkey). Audrey and Calista watch them unpack and while both girls find Mookie attractive, Audrey talks Calista into dating him. Audrey's only male contact is her 'sex-buddy', tacky and gawky Abraham (Brian Klugman) who works at the local convenience store with Audrey. Mookie and Calista begin an affair while Audrey looks on longingly, and when Calista lets Mookie know she has MS the relationship is strained: Mookie also is leaving for the university soon.
Audrey confesses her feelings for Mookie and Calista flees on a motorcycle to chase the now departed Mookie. She is in an accident and is hospitalized and since she has broken her relationship with her caretaker Audrey, Henry manages to draw enough courage to leave his trailer to sit at Calista's hospital bedside - along with visits from Mookie. Calista's accident makes her even more aware of her fractured future and she releases her feelings for Mookie, reconnects with Audrey, and Audrey's father discovers her many letters of acceptance to college she has hidden to prevent abandoning her role as caretaker and convinces Audrey to flow with her dreams instead of being imprisoned in Dreamland. And the manner in which each of the characters in the film resolves the changes now facing them is the tender ending of the story.
DREAMLAND is created by a very strong cast of fine actors who dwell solidly within their characters' psyches, making this somewhat surreal story very real indeed. The setting is extraordinary in its ordinariness and the camera-work by Jonathan Sela is impeccable. This is a strong story about coming of age, about quality of love, and about being human. It is a treasure. Grady Harp