Former British pop star Gary Shaller is at a crossroads in his life: his job in New York City is going nowhere, his American wife, Dora, drives him crazy, and he passed his thirtieth birthday four years ago. Add to that his best friend Paul seems to become more successful every time he breathes. Gary is feeling depressed and dejected... until he meets Anna. She's glamorous and smart; she's seductive and witty. Best of all, she's crazy about Gary. Anna is the girl of Gary's dreams...literally. And that's the problem. Gary can only see Anna in his dream life, so he's got to find a way to carry on the most satisfying relationship of his life, in his dreams. His quest for lucid dreaming techniques introduces Gary to some crazy characters who ultimately give him a new perspective on life. Written by
Surrealist Dramedy Falls Way Short Due to a Muddy Execution
It's pretty obvious that first-time director/screenwriter Jake Paltrow was heavily inspired by Michel Gondry's surreal, off-kilter work in "The Science of Sleep" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" in making this downbeat 2007 dramedy. Barely in theaters before heading right to DVD, the film works on an intriguing (albeit unoriginal) premise but is then undermined by a muddy execution and unlikable characters despite some nice visuals. The plot concerns put-upon Gary, a TV commercial jingle writer who was once an '80's Britpop star. His professional life has become a drudge as he begrudgingly works with his best pal and former bandmate Paul, who has sold his soul to become a successful advertising executive. Meanwhile, life at home is no picnic since Gary has to suffer from the constant passive-aggressive derision of his frumpy, needling girlfriend Dora.
Into this emotional void, Gary starts to have vivid dreams of a beautiful fantasy woman named Anna, who turns out to have a basis in reality. It's no wonder that Gary seeks the counsel of a "lucid dreaming" expert from New Jersey named Mel who helps him find ways to elongate the dreams for fear of having them evaporate entirely. Once all this is all established, Paltrow lets the film flail around in a series of frustrating scenes that have Gary turning more and more into an emotional zombie. Moreover, the marked contrast between Dora and Anna comes across as overstated with the result being complete indifference toward both women. Paltrow also uses a framing device of documentary-like testimonials from colleagues in Gary's past, a technique that doesn't make sense until the abrupt ending. None of the principal actors are terribly remarkable here except Simon Pegg ("Shaun of the Dead", "Hot Fuzz") who brings a much-needed energetic brio to the comically unsavory role of Paul. His cutting scenes with Gary are the best the movie offers.
As Gary, Martin Freeman (BBC's "The Office", "Breaking and Entering") is likeably dweeby at first, though he doesn't make credible his past as a debauched rock star. Danny DeVito merely plays a plot device in his customary matter and not much more as Mel. No matter how gorgeous she is (and she truly is in this film), Penélope Cruz is given short shrift by the script, so much so that her character remains incoherent and incomplete. But ironically, a worse fate befalls the filmmaker's famous sister Gwyneth, who has been so deglamorized as Dora as to render her character nearly unsalvageable. Granted there are some funny, off-the-cuff bits like Dora reacting to Gary's maniacal installation of foam over the bedroom windows by asking if it comes in white or Gary inexplicably reading "The Idiot's Guide to Understanding Iraq" in bed, but there isn't enough such cleverness to sustain the film. At 93 minutes, it actually feels overlong. The 2008 DVD provides a rather inchoate commentary from Jake Paltrow that is not very insightful.
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