BR: Dreamworld (2012)

May 1, 2014 | By


Dreamworld2012_BRFilm: Good

Transfer: Excellent  /  Extras: Excellent

Label: Sneak Attack / CAV

Region: All

Released:  January 7, 2014

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: An animator takes a leap of faith and drives with an impetuous girl to San Francisco in the hope he’ll land a job and find true love.

Special Features:  Filmmaker Commentary Track / 3 “roguemantic” short films: “Long Story Short” + “Elliott” + “Tomorrow” / “Life After Myth” animated sizzle reel / Oliver and Lily’s Blog / Artwork and Photos.




Dreamworld follows struggling animator Oliver (actor / writer Whit Hertford) as he makes a rash decision to hitch a ride with a complete stranger – ‘manic pixie’ Lily (Mary Kate Wiles) – to San Francisco, where a contact at Pixar might finally give him a badly needed break.

36 hours into their trip the pair begin a relationship, share some secrets – Oliver’s father abandoned the family for his own stab at an animation career, Lily’s pixie mood swings and energy spurts stem in part from self-medicating heroin use – and seem to be on a path to couplehood, but during a stopover at the apartment of Lily’s ‘Pixar friend’ Colin (Piranha 3DD’s Matt Bush) Oliver discovers she’s a liar, unfaithful, and spiteful.

When she furiously bolts from Colin’s apartment, a stranded Oliver finds a peculiar camaraderie with Colin (Lilly’s most recent ex) and his best friend Richard, and the trio venture to a local gamer hangout to ease their troubles. Some conflicts erupt at the store, and Lily unleashes some vicious, cruel verbal assaults before fully abandoning Oliver and taking valuable presentation files needed for his Pixar pitch.

Things ultimately work out in the end, with Lily being the right medicine to push and engage Oliver to gamble on his skills as an animator, and meet new friends who instill a new sense of purpose, and giving him a decisive focus.

That’s ultimately one of the film’s key messages – just do it – and to an extent it resonates, but the meandering structure established by director / producer / cinematographer / editor Darst is further stressed by Hertford’s loose script that was crafted from improvised scenes worked out prior to filming.

Once Oliver and Lily are on the road, the film essentially becomes a straight road movie, with various unknowns resolved rather soon: they flirt, they fall in love, they share some level of personal & emotional intimacy, and then there’s a long stretch before Lily’s quirky persona is shattered. Interpolated with these micro conflicts are a series of repetitive music montages in which Darst assembles footage of the pair walking, touching, sitting, nuzzling, laughing, and sitting still; each set should show some advancement of their relationship or seed a new conflict, but it’s often repeated information, culminating in one more extended montage where they pair tour San Francisco – a sequence which, until a frank discussion at the tail, is just padding. They’re nicely cut and shot sequences, but they prolong getting the pair to Colin’s apartment where the film’s more aggressive conflicts are unleashed.

When Lily snaps, it’s a fast escalation from being pissy to sadistic, and her vicious downgrading of Oliver before she takes off with his folder doesn’t have any continuity with prior scenes. Both Colin and Richard tell Oliver ‘she’s crazy’ and manipulates men before trashing them, but there’s no insight as to why; Lily just switches gears from manic pixie to a sociopathic bitch, and in spite of Oliver offering a second chance  in the finale, she fails to provide a compelling reason for her quixotic behaviour (and regain our sympathy).  There’s also the issue of Oliver’s best friend Jules who rescued him from being stranded in San Francisco: with the couple restarting their relationship at the end, Oliver must explain to Jules why he’s back with the girl whom she utterly loathes – a move that would undoubtedly bring stress to what’s a tight friendship.

Both writer and director also relied a little too much on the actors’ improvisation to build drama and create scenes with meaty content. The weakest effort is the so-called pitch session near the end where Oliver junks his original idea, and asks a pair of guest speakers from Pixar for their opinion on a ‘classic concept’ involving a Hobo and his companion – a bottle of pee. After the pitch, Jules tells Oliver ‘he owned the room’ by taking control of his life and gambling on a wackier idea, but the actual moment where Oliver is supposedly enthralling the Pixar men and regains his self-confidence is over after a few cursory words; the actors and director may have known the gravitas of the scene, but none of it’s translated onscreen, especially from the perfunctory dialogue.

Dreamworld has a story, but it seems to have gotten diluted and elongated during the improv process, losing some important dramatic beats. Even if the lead characters were driving around to clear their minds, learning from each other’s company and life lessons, falling in / out of love during the intense few days of the story, Darst’s music montages kind of negate the drama of prior scenes by being giddy, quirky, and ultimately fluffy; there’s a strong sense of what the filmmakers were after, but it’s only occasionally palpable.


The Blu-ray + Extras

Sneak Attack’s Blu-ray offers a really beautiful transfer of the film, and Darst’s meticulous colour scheme is filled with soft candy colours which are balanced with the actor’s costumes and the exterior shots of open skies, sunsets, and the various natural and architectural elements. The digital sound mix is generally fine – the audio’s been cleaned up in spite of some obvious use of location sound – but the music track is pushed a little too high, blasting higher than the dialogue throughout several scenes.

Extras include a sometimes meandering filmmaker commentary track which heavily favours reflections on acting; some publicity materials associated with the films’ characters (Lily’s Diary, character blogs, and some animated material), plus three shorts directed by Darst featuring Hertford. Both have collaborated on several long- and short-form projects developed from improvised material which are distributed through the pair’s company, Sneak Attack, and the trio of shorts – branded as “roguemantic” short films – presage some of the content and problems in their feature film debut.

Each film stars Whit Hertford as a man searching for love, and taking simple yet daring steps to meet and lock into what may be the perfect romance. In Long Story Short (2010) he’s an actor who woos fellow improv artist Georgia (Kirkpatrick, who also performed the score); Elliott (2011) has Whitford struggling to move on after the love of his life (Wiles) is killed in a car accident after a heated argument; and in Tomorrow (2012) he plays a screenwriter who spots an old flame on the subway and attempts to rekindle an old romance (Stephanie Allynne) after freshly breaking up with a bossy girlfriend (Holly Prazoff).

The shorts could be regarded as stepping stones where both Darst and Hertford experimented with the latter’s concept of the sensitive bachelor – a character hungry to connect with someone,and a guy willing to articulate feelings to pro-actively problem-solve upcoming rough spots. Darst also tests out creamy lighting styles which evolved into Dreamworld’s lush look, and assembles similar montages of a couple discovering, playing, nuzzling, and finding calm amid a prolonged endorphin trip.

Not dissimilar to Dreamworld, the weakest sections in the shorts are direct confrontations where arguments and emotional ugliness aren’t developed and paced in relation to follow-up scenes (the ‘big argument’ in Elliott which, as acted and compacted in the final edit, is quite civil, with a palpable but hardly abrasive sternness) and a few sections of the improv-styled dialogue feel a little trite.

Even with its flaws, Darst and Hertford’s Dreamworld’s a laudable effort, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the filmmakers can refine scenes into a tighter feature-length project, and find a balance between a looser and natural screenwriting style with better orchestrated conflicts.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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