G4 Film Review: Mean Dreams – 4/10 (Some Spoilers)

A touching tale, but ultimately lacking in conceptual clout and follow-through.

Having premiered last year at Cannes (and yet to see a UK release), Mean Dreams follows the escape attempt of two teenagers, Casey and Jonas, from their respectively abusive and neglectful households. On the run from Casey’s violent father, a local police sheriff into some shady dealings involving murder, drug money and alcoholism, this at times sweet coming of age story smacks at once of True Romance and Garden State, sound like an awkward mix? It kind of is.

Following in the wake of more thoughtful, esoteric pictures like American Honey, that also pits young runaways against the backwards nature of small town existence, Mean Dreams just falls a little flat, overcrowding itself and yet seeming somewhat sparse at the same time.

The two main characters, Casey Caraway and Jonas Ford, with names fresh out of a comic book strip, are two young souls that collide when the Caraway family move onto the plot of land next to the Ford farm, somewhere nondescript in rural America. Jonas helps his defeated father as a farmhand, both of them shouldering the burden of a mother lost to the constant lethargy of crippling alcoholism. Casey, the daughter of a now single Bill Paxton following a drunk driving accident in which he killed his wife, grins and bears intermittent beatings hinting at a degree of sexualisation not fully delved into by the film. This fact actually is one of the nice subtleties of the movie, showing a depth which unsettles, realistic enough to make you uncomfortable. It’s a pity then that the rest of Mean Dreams largely waives this kind of implied subtext, although not necessarily for lack of trying.

The extremes of the respective existences of the two leads, while individually interesting on a scene by scene basis, fall into the trap of trying to cover a lot of heavy ground very quickly and scantly. Featuring abuse, neglect, bike gangs, murder, heavy drinking, drugs (hinted at), injury, coming of age friendship, first love, the road-trip motif, gun crime, and being on the run would typically comes off as a little busy, it’s kind of surprising then that although touched upon, all of the above events just feel a little thin on the ground, made to push along the very much adolescent plot almost arbitrarily, until we arrive at it’s predictable conclusion. It’s the illusion of a deft attempt at scope, but the best snapshot narratives have to fully transfix and transport, and there doesn’t end up being enough focus catalytically to make this happen, specifically with regards to the build up of the protagonists.

It’s not as if Mean Dreams is offensive in any way, in fact some of the moments that Jonas (Josh Wiggins) and Casey (Sophie Nélisse) share are actually very sweet and tactful, but there’s never the force behind the delivery of the young characters or their journey to really make audiences invest in them. There’s also one scene in which Jonas asks Casey “do you lie a lot?” to which she replies “All the time” which if memory serves is actually lifted from Garden State, more or less verbatim. That kind of gives you the indication that this is very much a “target audience” film.

Bill Paxton, while at points imposing quite a menacing screen presence, doesn’t give the performance of his career, which again has largely to do with a lack of empathy built up for the series of events. It’s solid enough, but he’s hardly chewing the scenery. He has a really worrying habit of smoking in petrol stations too, which is nothing if not extremely anxiety inducing, but then he’s a guy that clearly doesn’t give a f**k, and that sure proves it. Seriously though, it’s a health and safety catastrophe waiting to happen. Often the dialogue overall, while not being uproarious or cringe worthy is also not overly quotable, yet one of the best performances aside from Sophie Nélisse, who at points really breathes life into Casey, was Colm Feore as the local police chief, also the supporting role of Jonas’ father (Joe Cobden) has some nice moments within the short time he’s on-screen.

All in all Mean Dreams is what it is, neither terrible nor of any real substance, it’s a fine film to pass time with if you’re taking your new partner to go and munch popcorn through after college, but beyond that unfortunately, it’s unlikely to stick with you for a prolonged period of time.


– Max Colbert