'Dreamland': Tribeca Review
Another Coppola/Schwartzman clan filmmaker, Robert Schwartzman, makes his debut.
The Coppola/Schwartzman showbiz clan adds another filmmaker to its ranks with Dreamland, the directing debut of Robert Schwartzman, heretofore best known as the frontman of the band Rooney. Nods to the extended family pepper the film — brother Jason and mother Talia Shire play supporting roles, and yes, that's a bottle of uncle Francis's wine sitting on the bar — whose more direct lineage is the Graduate-style coming-of-age picture: Here, Johnny Simmons plays an aspiring piano player nudged out of daydreamy inaction by an older woman (Amy Landecker). Industry connections will be helpful in drawing attention to this likeable if not totally distinctive pic, which offers Simmons a very different role than the one he played in SXSW standout Transpecos.
Simmons's Monty Fagan lives with his girlfriend Liz (Frankie Shaw) in a house dominated by her mother (Beverly D'Angelo). If that doesn't sufficiently demonstrate his emasculation, the film opens with a bedroom scene in which he fails to give Liz the kind of take-charge sex she wants.
Barely scraping by on $25 piano-teaching sessions, Monty has no reasonable hope of getting a loan to open the piano bar he dreams of. But while working a temporary gig in an elite hotel's cocktail lounge, he is seduced by a woman who wants to help: The older but very sexy Olivia (Landecker), who appears to have an open relationship with her rich husband, fawns over him when it suits her, rewarding great sex with small-for-her monetary gifts that, after initial reluctance, Monty adds to his entrepreneurial fund.
Simmons brings a babyfaced helplessness to this relationship, his capitulation to Olivia's advances made easier by the news that Liz has been unfaithful. The script charts the dissolution of their relationship elliptically, skipping over drama and disapproval (Liz's mom compliments the glow illicit sex gives her) and discarding opportunities to deepen any conflict Monty feels. Instead the youth moves quickly to the "run away with me" stage, hoping for things the audience knows he'll never get. Landecker plays the part perfectly, greedy for his company but never seeming to consider giving up her life of privilege.
As Olivia engages in the kind of increasingly risky behavior that exposes the power differential between them, a trainwreck seems inevitable. But where the film should tighten, it goes slack, failing to get us so invested in Monty's plight that we ache for him when he realizes how ephemeral his dreams are.
Production elements are as solid as the film's acting. But working as his own composer (and in his choices of source music), Schwartzman employs some of the wispy and burbly synth ingredients identified with cousin Sofia Coppola; they work better for her movies than his, which might have been better served with more of the torchy piano-bar numbers Monty dreams of playing one day.
Production company: MF Film LLC
Cast: Johnny Simmons, Amy Landecker, Beverly D'Angelo, Frankie Shaw, Alan Ruck, Shay Mitchell, Nick Thune, Jason Schwartzman, Noel Wells, Talia Shire, Robin Thomas
Director: Robert Schwartzman
Screenwriters: Benjamin Font, Robert Schwartzman
Producers: Mel Eslyn, Robert Schwartzman
Executive producer: Bret Disend
Director of photography: Benjamin Kasulke
Production designer: Danielle Laubach
Costume designer: Kate DeBlasio
Editor: Chris Donlon
Composer: Robert Schwartzman
Casting director: Barbara J. McCarthy
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Narrative Competition)
Sales: Jessica Lacy, ICM