A desert-set coming of age story, Dreamland is the sort of film that Allison Anders used to make. Indeed, its themes — difficult choices, emotionally-troubled parents and friends, budding romance — are familiar subjects to any long-standing fan of the US indie movement. As such, it would be easy to write Matzner's tale off in no uncertain terms, and yet... There is something compelling to his handling of the cliches and that really boils down to two things: Agnes Bruckner and Kelli Garner.
Garner gets to flounce around in the "I'm sick, me" role of Calista, MS sufferer, Miss America-wannabe and best friend to frustrated poet Audrey, played by Bruckner. Calista has moved to the desert trailer park of Dreamland as the dry heat is good for her illness. Audrey is here because her father (Corbett) has withdrawn from society, becoming ever more inclusive since his wife, Audrey's mother, died. Audrey basically gets to care for them both, nurturing her literary ambitions and sacrificing her dreams of an education. As she says, Emily Dickin
son never went to college either. Then enter Mookie (Long), new neighbour and the story's catalyst. He's on his way to college but recuperating for a summer. Inevitably, he falls into a relationship with Calista but falls for Audrey, and the feeling's reciprocated. Inevitably Audrey and Calista fall out, fall apart and fall back together, changed in the way that only coming-of-ager movie characters can.
If that sounds sarcastic, well, yeah, it is a little: Dreamland is not the most original of tales but it is beautifully shot (and in appropriately dreamy tones), neatly scored and superbly played. Garner, looking as unlike her Lars and the Real Girl character as it is possible to get, gets the flashy role but invests Calista with a touching realism that remains long after the flourishes and eccentricities have passed. Better still is Bruckner, the film's emotional centre, who remains understated and utterly believable throughout. Long and Corbett also impress enough to make you forget, if only temporarily, the cliches of their roles, but it's the girls that will linger in the memory.
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