Monday, May 20, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Dreamin’ Wild’ Thrives In Its Sincerity

Director: Bill Pohlad
Writers: Bill Pohlad
Stars: Casey Affleck, Walton Goggins, Zooey Deschanel, Beau Bridges, Noah Jupe

Synopsis: Musical duo Donnie and Joe Emerson spend everything they have to produce a record in the 1970s.


Sincerity can often be the biggest strength of a film, and in some cases it’s what saves a movie from any over indulgences. Whether it be melodrama, sentimentality, thematic structure, or performances; genuine sincerity will almost always overcome any potential pitfalls the film has. And that certainly is the case for Bill Pohlad (Love & Mercy)’s latest film, Dreamin’ Wild, starring Cassey Affleck and Walton Goggins.

Dreamin’ Wild is based upon the true story of the Emerson brothers, Donnie (Affleck) and Joe (Goggins), who produced an album in their teens. Upon its initial release in the late 1970s, it came and went without any critical or financial success. It was also the beginning and the end of their musical careers in many respects. Donnie continued to pursue music before realizing it wasn’t going to be as fruitful as he hoped. Three decades after recording their album “Dreamin’ Wild” as teenagers, they are contacted by a record producer who wants to re-release the album and truly market the soundtrack properly. Donnie and Joe didn’t know it, but their album has somehow become popular with the advent of the internet.

For most people, it would seem as if this is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a Hollywood story that doesn’t seem real. You make an unsuccessful album in your youth only for it to be revitalized as a big hit in your 40’s? That only happens in the movies, right? That’s pretty much how Donnie reacts to the news. He’s in disbelief. He’s dreamed of this happening his entire life, but never thought it was possible. Yet, as the film unfolds, we start to see that Donnie’s reaction to all of this isn’t incredulousness, it’s something deeper. Something more somber.

Enter in sincerity. In one of the most crowd-pleasing characters of the year, we learn that Donnie’s father – Don Sr. (Beau Bridges) – is a major catalyst behind his musical prowess. When he realized that Donnie was gifted as a kid, he went out of his way to gift him guitars and pianos. He built them a studio on their farm to hone their skills and make music. He guided his boys with wisdom. He loved them at all costs. Don Sr. is the kind of film character that is often saccharine, but Bridges brings a warmth to the character that avoids that pitfall. When we learn of his sacrifices, and how that affected Donnie, it could have felt emotionally manipulative. And in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, it would have. But Pohlad and Bridges, alongside Affleck and Goggins, offer a rich honesty that not only gives the film integrity, but that emotion is felt with earnest relatability.

In one way or another, everyone has experience with grappling with disappointment as it relates to their parents. We understand Donnie’s deep-rooted guilt. Especially when we come to realize the cost of Donnie pursuing his dreams. It was heavy. So, this opportunity to save his musical career isn’t just about him, it’s about his family. His father. His brother. Affleck is perhaps best known for his saddening retrospective style of acting, which makes his casting impeccable. The way he portrays guilt and shame here is quite sublime. Equal to the task is Goggins, who is aware that he’s not the musical genius of the family, but rather someone who just wants to spend time with his brother. The way he conveys love and respect, despite being chewed out a few times, is remarkable. He’s truly the unsung hero of this cast.

Pohlad doesn’t quite reach the same heights as Love & Mercy, but his direction and storytelling with Dreamin’ Wild is still impressive. Structurally speaking, the film echoes what we see in Love & Mercy between one’s past and present, with Noah Jupe playing young Donnie. There are moments in which those editing lines are apparent, and slightly manufactured as we come to find out what’s driving Donnie’s guilt. However, did I mention the sincerity of this film? All kidding aside, those sequences could been seen as cloying, but they aren’t. And it’s not just the performances, it’s Pohlad’s direction and how much he clearly cares about this story.

Dreamin’ Wild may not be winning any Oscars, but it’s one of those movies that often qualify as “Best Surprises” of the year. There’s so much joy to be had here with its ideas on family, sacrifice and love. Even if it is sappy (and I don’t think it is), I ate it up. These performances are very good. The music is captivating. It’s a film worth your time.

Grade: B

JD Duran
JD Duran
InSession Film founder and owner. I love film. Love art. Love how it intersects with our real lives. My favorite movies include Citizen Kane, The 400 Blows, Modern Times, The Godfather and The Tree of Life. Follow me on Twitter @RealJDDuran. Follow us @InSessionFilm.

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