Written and directed by Nicholas Kazan
A good beginning and end does not a good film make, and the proof is Dream Lover, a story about a man whose life unravels when he’s seduced by a mysterious (but really, really hot) woman.
James Spader plays Ray, our man in peril. Handsome, rich, successful in his work as an architect. He’s getting divorced (amicably, as far as those things go) and he’s trying out single life once again. He’s not great at it, a little flustered at all times. Good-natured and all, but no Casanova. Then he comes across Lena, and he’s thunderstruck. The romance is immediate, overwhelmingly so, and while not a montage, their first few years certainly feel that way. Initial post-coitus bliss cuts to their wedding party, then cuts to the birth of their first-born, then cuts to their 2-year anniversary.
Then, Ray begins to sense something’s wrong. Lena’s a little distant, has suspicious phone calls in front of him and hotel stays begin popping up on the credit card bill. Scrutinizing Lena’s claims about her past reveals several big lies, but he’s in love and decides to ignore the red flag parade and make it work. Big mistake…
Watching Dream Lover isn’t a big mistake, just a small one on the whole. What likely lures you is also its best part: James Spader, Mädchen Amick and the chemistry between them. Spader has the boy-next-door look, but what makes him enduring is the reserve behind his eyes. It’s what saw him first stand out as a romantic lead and later made him such a charismatic trickster figure. It’s a quality Hugh Grant, fellow 90s dreamboat, also possesses, only Spader feels more unpredictable.
Opposite him, I don’t need to go on about Amick’s beauty, but in Dream Lover, she molds both the divine and seductive into something almost pristine and imperial. The folly in trying to love someone like that should almost be obvious, but the Greek myths didn’t tell us of sirens for no reason. Some things are just too alluring to stay away from. Amick relies on more than her looks to realize Lena with a performance that goes from aloof to dominating. Spader has enough to do in telling the story of a man who’s in too deep, but Amick has a lot of fun as the person teasing him by dangling a life preserver above his head.
One of these two are always on screen, so how can it go wrong?
Kazan’s script (which he also directs) feels patched together across the middle, with scenes butting against each other without any sense of cohesive rhythm. Picture this: Ray, irate, storms out of his apartment, slamming the door behind him and we cut to a scene where he’s half-running down the street going over the thoughts tormenting him. The music is delirious, Ray seems to have real purpose in his step. Exciting! Where is he going? Home, apparently, because this scene, 10 seconds long tops, cuts back to him reentering his apartment he just left. How’s that for ebb and flow.
That’s just one of many sequences that make Dream Lover feel haphazardly glued together with dramatic popsicle sticks, coming off as lazy attempts at connecting the dots from the initial alluring romance to the dramatic end. Overall, it feels like Kazan had a clear idea of where to start and where to end, but no roadmap connecting the two. That, or he’s attempting to let dream logic dictate the pacing of his film, with scenes leaping, dragging, slouching from one to the next. Regardless of which it is, it’s not a good look.
Looking back at Dream Lover now when concepts like love bombing and trauma dumping have given us the vocabulary to define nefarious abusive behavior is gratifying to a certain extent. They really do have a point, and any person who intends on dating another person ought to take heed of Ray’s tale – the signs were there all along.
There’s a great movie in Dream Lover, only Kazan struggles to find it, while Spader and Amick do their best to distract you from that fact – it almost works. Almost.