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Dream Lover
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Snore Rather than a 'Dream'"
2 stars

Obviously having no faith in the movie, MGM released it in under two-hundred theaters in the U.S., resulting in a paltry gross of $316,809.

“From Jane Fonda to Warren Beatty to Burt Reynolds to Meryl Streep to…Kristy McNichol?” kept going through my mind throughout the lackluster psychological thriller Dream Lover, and after seeing the overall result I don’t think my perplexity was too far off the mark. Alan J. Pakula is the Oscar-winning director who’s given us such fine entertainments as Klute, The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, Starting Over and Comes a Horseman (probably his most underrated effort), all of which showcased first-rate work from its stars, so it’s a letdown to see the vapid young actress McNichol doing the headlining, though to be fair I don’t see how anyone could’ve lent either variety or verity to the dreary role of Kathy Gardner, a jazz flutist attending a musical academy in New York City who soon finds her quaint life in turmoil after a life-threatening event. Kathy is the silver-spoon-raised daughter of her wealthy, overprotective Washington, D.C. father Ben (Paul Shenar) who has a trip for the two of them planned for Japan, but after Kathy’s instructor offers her a musical gig and a sublet apartment in Greenwich Village she goes against her father’s wishes and accepts the offer. On her move-in day a strange twentysomething man enters through its left-open door with a yellow rose in his hand inquiring about a woman who he insists lives in the place; Kathy politely sends him on his way, later she gets up in the night to fix herself a glass of warm milk, and the very same man grabs her from behind in the kitchen and holds a knife to her throat, again insisting that the woman he’s looking for must still be in the apartment. But the resourceful Kathy manages to wrangle free, throws the pot of scalding-hot milk in his face, and stabs him in the back with the knife. The police arrive on the scene, and so does Kathy’s father, who insists that she maintain she blacked out after seeing the knife so as to satisfy the police that this was a case of self-defense (which is implausible being that the assailant’s fingerprints would be on the weapon); the traumatized Kathy steadfastly remains in the apartment rather than going home with her father, insisting that she’s made a commitment to her instructor (though from an earlier scene where Kathy’s father kisses her on the lips while saying goodnight, we suspect something of an incestuous nature is at play, but the movie doesn’t follow through on it). The next night Kathy has a horrifying dream of that same night, with her going through the same steps, only this time she isn’t able to get the upper hand on her assailant, and she’s terrified of going back to sleep. All a psychiatrist can offer is possibly taking barbiturates, which he refuses to prescribe for her in that they’ll temporarily rid her of her dream but will be habit-forming, but a doctor about her age at a sleep-research facility, Michael Hansen (Ben Masters), at a sleep-research facility, offers her what might be a cure. It seems that during dreams the brain secrets a chemical that keeps people paralyzed, otherwise they’d be acting out their dreams (“Not good for the survival of the species,” he insists); this drug has only been tested on cats, but Kathy volunteers to be Michael’s first human test subject if it’ll rid her of this dream, and Michael goes along not just out of caring but also fascination to see if he can make a crucial breakthrough that the Food and Drug Administration is holding him back from. And from here Kathy finds her dreams becoming more and more frightening and unrelenting.

Pakula’s previous two movies, Rollover and Sophie’s Choice, were disappointing duds, and it’s clear after the first thirty minutes of Dream Lover that he hasn’t yet regained all his facilities, particularly in the area of working up expressive mood. The editing is slack, and Pakula doesn’t get enough ominous atmosphere going -- I kept thinking how a Brian De Palma or David Lynch could’ve nailed this material despite its insufficiencies; it’s pretty much trash, but Pakula has made the crucial mistake of coming off as if he were aesthetically above it, which just about kills any kind of pleasure we could derive from it. He’s using the ever-tasteful Ingmar Bergman’s regular cinematographer Sven Nykvist rather than his own regular cinematographer Gordon Willis, and the difference in the visual texture is quite noticeable in that it’s unremarkably sterile -- it’s as if it were untouched by someone willing to get their hands dirty. Aside from one shot involving McNichol dreaming herself wielding a knife at her own self after opening a gigantic door that dwarfs her diminutive self, there isn’t a single memorable image to be had. In his underappreciated Still of the Night, Robert Benton, another Oscar-winning talking-heads director, at least gave his dream sequences something of a graphic vitality whereas Dream Lover’s haven’t any staying power. For a while, though, the performance by the blandly handsome Masters maintains our interest in that we’re never sure if he has Kathy’s best interests at heart: Masters, who was appealing in the romantic comedy Key Exchange from the year before, is able to be vivid while still etching an everyman portrait; and his initial scenes are so promising we’re sorry that he doesn’t have nearly enough to do. (His character could’ve used some of the juicy eccentricity of William Hurt’s scientist in Altered States.) This is Jon Boorstin’s first screenplay, and though he was an assistant to Pakula on The Parallax View and his associate producer on All the President’s Men there’s nothing here indicative of talent. He’s concocted a catchy story premise, sure, but it’s woefully underdeveloped and devoid of ratiocination -- it doesn’t play by any sort of rules, so you’re deprived of taking any pleasure from the various twists and turns because they’re not really grounded in anything. We suspect Kathy’s assailant is of a supernatural nature since he’s so ill-defined, but this conflict is dissolved rather than resolved, which is a shame because the actor playing him, Justin Deas, has a reasonably maniacal presence we want more of. And the conclusion is amateurishly flubbed in that we should be positively nerve-jangled but are brought up short at its anti-climactic hastiness. (Was there some last-minute tinkering in the editing room ordered by the studio?) Of course, we’re willing to give a movie the benefit of the doubt for a good while if the lead performance holds some semblances of interest, but McNichol isn’t up to the task. She’s gotten by when acting alongside pros like Marsha Mason, in Only When I Laugh, and Dennis Quaid, in The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, because those are giving actors who know how to get a relationship and rhythm going with their co-stars, and those screenplays had some girth; here, asked to shoulder the burden of a substandard movie by a major studio she just doesn’t have the screen presence and resourcefulness for the task at hand. (Even the numerous shots with her in her underwear fail to entice us.) Her anemic acting in the apt-titled Dream Lover is a study in somnolence.

Sheesh, I'd rather sit through the ridiculous Scott Valentine-starring comedy "My Demon Lover."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29296&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/15/15 17:58:31
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USA
  21-Feb-1986 (R)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Alan J. Pakula

Written by
  Jon Boorstin

Cast
  Kristy McNichol
  Ben Masters
  Paul Shenar
  Justin Deas
  John McMartin



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