‘Dream Scenario’: Cage is a dreamy choice for Borgli’s exceptional and eccentric dark comedy

“Dream Scenario” (2023) – “The Dream Police.  They live inside my head.” – “Dream Police” (1979) by Cheap Trick

Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) isn’t a cop, but – for reasons that cannot (easily) be explained – he’s living inside people’s heads. 

This college professor and family man spends his days giving lectures about evolutionary biology and supporting his wife, Janet (Julianne Nicholson), and their two daughters.  However, nights suddenly become problematic because friends, students, colleagues, and strangers inexplicably begin dreaming about him. 


This mild-mannered, nondescript educator becomes an overnight sensation, and as director/writer Kristoffer Borgli’s inventive, satirical, and eccentric movie unfolds over 102 minutes, it becomes abundantly clear that Cage is a dream choice to play Paul. 

Cage has been on a roll lately.  Movie studios and filmmakers seem to have awakened with Nicolas in mind, and he’s accepted notable roles, led by “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (2022), where he plays a version of himself in an action comedy with Pedro Pascal. 

But we can also look towards other recent flicks where the public has rediscovered Nicolas Kim Coppola, including “Pig” (2021), “Renfield” (2023), and an ever-so-brief cameo in “The Flash” (2023).

Cage fans may argue that he never separated from their lives.  Just look at his lengthy IMDb resume with 116 credits as proof.

Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage)

In a 2012 Werner Herzog Q&A (that’s available on YouTube at BAMorg), the famous director celebrates his collaboration with Nicolas on “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009).  Werner explains that Cage asked for insight into why his character – the bad lieutenant – was…bad.

Herzog responded, “’Nicolas, you know, there’s such a thing like the bliss of evil.  Go for it!’  And he really went for it.” 

Here, Nicolas’ Paul isn’t malevolent, but our lead thespian goes for it in “Dream Scenario”.

Professor Matthews – a follically-challenged 50-something suburbanite – is confident with his classroom material, but he’s insecure and awkward outside his teaching mode.

His ex-girlfriend, Claire (Marnie McPhail), remarks that he’s “always (waiting) for the insult.”

Janet states that he “scores high on assholeness.”

He doesn’t stand out in a crowd, and therefore, Paul is safe among the herd, not unlike an example in the animal kingdom that he calls out in class. 

Cage is physically masterful here, with seemingly hundreds of moments where Paul’s internal churn of self-doubt rises to the surface with hesitations, graceless chit-chat, and clumsy exchanges. 

With zero charisma, Matthews essentially goes unnoticed, but once colleagues, acquaintances, and unfamiliar individuals begin to recognize him (because he’s a frequent attendee during their slumber), this timid fellow gets a palatable taste of celebrity and far-and-wide curiosity.

Borgli and cinematographer Benjamin Loeb embrace the challenge of forging dream sequences, and they skillfully gather numerous five-second snippets of anxious, tangible images of snooze hallucinations.  On most occasions, Borgli deliberately identifies which cinematic extractions originate from the on-screen characters’ headspaces, but he – sometimes – makes us guess.   

Paul and Janet Matthews (Cage and Julianne Nicholson)

Not only do Borgli and Loeb take meticulous care with the sporadic delusions’ visuals, but sound designer and Oscar winner Sylvain Bellemare and his team offer bold echoes, thuds, and reverberations to accompany these surprising fantasy morsels.  Conversely, Bellemare and company hush the resonance during the story’s conscious minutes, reflecting Paul’s mundane existence. 

Filmed in Toronto, the grey, overcast weather escorts our hero, not necessarily like a dark cloud but as a lingering malaise.  It’s no accident that he roams through the ashen concrete walls of his university, where he takes pride in his life’s work, which contrasts with his luxurious brick home, one adorned with flowery, luxurious grounds. 

Janet grew up in this domicile that Paul, she, and their two girls occupy, and it’s a refuge of opulence, comfort, and family.  Outside fame should pale in comparison.  Perhaps “Dream Scenario” shines a light on this searching-for-broad-acceptance dynamic, one magnified these days by social media’s ubiquitous force.  It’s a movie filled with observational humor and prickly, frank looks at the human condition, one with odd surprises, including a 30-something well-known film comedian randomly popping up as a baseball-hat-wearing marketing executive.

Yes, it’s difficult to police the proceedings in this new Nicolas Cage vehicle.  Hey, just dismiss any restraint and experience “Dream Scenario” with wide-open eyes.

⭐⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed and written by:  Kristoffer Borgli

Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Tim Meadows, and Dylan Gelula 

Runtime:  102 minutes

Rated: R

Image credits: A24

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