“Dream Scenario” gets many cringing laughs, and yet its humor—easy shots at vapid capitalist-pawn influencers, cancel culture, Tucker Carlson, and other culture wars Mad Libs—is mostly about the cheap comic thrill of getting the reference. As with Borgli’s first feature, about a powerful energy drink company called “Drib,” his way of satire is not much about what a reference means but what it is standing in for. With “Dream Scenario,” the awkwardness is stronger and gets far more laughs than the story containing it. In the process, compelling characters played by the likes of Michael Cera and Dylan Gelula are left as sketches. The biggest loss from this slightness is Julianne Nicholson as Paul’s wife, Janet. She’s maybe the last person to take Paul seriously because she knows him beyond the fantasies or nightmares he can bring.
The sleepy visions of “Dream Scenario” play out like disquieting slapstick, adding to Borgli’s unsettling filmmaking. With a human touch from cinematographer Benjamin Loeb’s many profile shots at a low angle (and a nice and tangible film stock), the editing fashions a strange tone that’s more horrified than horror. Multiple jarring cuts can disrupt an otherwise calm moment, and many scenes, some with elements of danger, start with the uncertainty of whether we’re in a dream. Borgli may be too lost in the haziness of dreams to make a great point, but he always keeps us on our toes.
“Dream Scenario” is a riff on the real-life weird case of “This Man,” a sketch that has inspired a website called “Ever Dream This Man?” Thousands of people around the world, according to the website, have claimed to. The venue helps people connect their dreams, which features a face that looks pretty ordinary and very well could appear in your dreams the longer you stare at him. Like a movie star. Borgli takes the concept of an eponymous figure—a possible proof of collective unconsciousness, dream surfing, or even the proof of God—and places it on the screen presence of Cage, a real phenomenon we have all memed about at one point or another.
In the end, “Dream Scenario” is what it criticizes, but with no great statement or great pivotal scene, just intriguing, oddball amusement. The movie isn’t just about memes; it is a meme. Which is part of the point, but not the most memorable one “Dream Scenario” could make.
Now playing in theaters.