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Daredreamer
(1990)

Director: Barry Cailler          
Cast:
Tim Noah, Adam Eastwood, Alyce LaTourelle


It's somewhat strange that someone as greatly talented and versatile as children entertainer Tim Noah is not better known than he currently is. At least he has been deservedly awarded for his talents on occasion; though you might not immediately connect him to it, it is likely that sometime in the past you have watched (or even just heard about) his Emmy award-winning TV special In Search Of The Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzle Woodle Woo!, which Noah wrote, scored, and starred in. The special happened to be my personal  introduction to Noah. Though I was a teenager at the time, I found myself sitting down to watch it on TV because of its weird title, though I must confess I was expecting to witness something akin to a train wreck. Instead I was pleasantly surprised; Noah was thoroughly likeable and energetic, the songs were tuneful and catchy, and best of all, Noah had written it on a level kids and older viewers could both enjoy. Since then, Noah hasn't been involved in any projects as high-profile as that, but that doesn't mean he's been inactive. Far from it; a look at his official web site reveals that in recent years his stage shows have been in demand for private performances by a number of top American corporations, as well as by the general public. He also has been working on his Emmy-nominated local kids' show in Seattle, produced and/or recorded several albums, and even helped create an audio/video package aimed at children learning to type.

Looking at all of his accomplishments, and the sheer variety of them, you might wonder why in all this time Noah hasn't made it to the silver screen, You won't be smiling when you get to school with that outfit oneither in front of or behind the camera. As it turns out, Noah did get involved in a movie project over a decade ago, one that currently is unheard of even by those with an interest in the offbeat and little-known. The movie was Daredreamer, with Noah not only acting and being involved in writing the script, but since the movie was conceived as a musical, Noah (no surprise) also took on the task to compos the songs. After it was completed, Daredreamer was given festival screenings; not only did the soundtrack get good notices from critics, the movie itself got a rave review from the film magazine Variety (where I first learned about the movie.) Yet despite all this praise, Daredreamer failed to pick up a committed distributor, getting almost no theatrical release. It also didn't get picked up by any video label and appear in video stores (at least Stateside.) Noah himself was kind enough to direct me to the movie's co-writer and producer Patricia Royce (whose film production company 90 Miles To Cuba currently has the movie rights), and she was kind enough to provide me with a copy so I could finally watch the movie after all of these years.

I liked Daredreamer. It is by no means a hidden masterpiece, and it certainly isn't without some big flaws. But it's an unpretentious, upbeat little movie that you can't help but like even when it stumbles and frantically scrambles to get up and moving smoothly again. Its weaknesses are made up for partially by its mixture of imagination and honesty; the movie has a creative flair that automatically differentiates it from other "teen" movies, yet at the same time it remembers and doesn't shy away from the fact that life can absolutely suck when you are a teenager. It certainly is for poor Winston (Noah), a high school student with an unbelievable number of problems. All his life, he has been a daydreamer, constantly fantasizing a number of positions of triumph and power for himself - things like being a rock star, swaggering down the hallways of his school with his own entourage and other students looking on him like a demi-god, or as a hard-edged vice cop determined to get his man. All this dreaming has had a bad effect on his school performance, and he's in danger of failing yet again and not being able to graduate. But seeing Winston's life, one can understand why he's obsessed with daydreaming; he is openly mocked by his peers, his one friend Max (Eastwood) is increasingly exasperated by him, and all the adults in his life - his teachers and even his parents - don't seem to have any sympathy or understanding.

It's not too surprising that the best parts of Daredreamer are the dream sequences. After all, dreams don't always stay close to reality, so you have a great amount of creative freedom if you are making a dream sequence for a movie. '80S ATTACK! MY EYES! MY EYES!And there is indeed a great deal of variety and technique to be found in the dreams and daydreams in this movie. The fact that the movie had an unbelievably low budget in no way slowed down the filmmakers' ambition to be wild and all-out - it just instead got them to use what they could easily (and cheaply) get in the most noticeable ways possible. For example, two of the daydreams are filmed in cheap and available black and white. However, they spent the time to make the crispness and lighting of this familiar two-color scheme look especially striking, and the simply-made props made for the sequence look extremely wild and cartoon-like as a result. It's almost as if Tim Burton had done the sequence. The Cloud 9 number, where Winston imagines himself floating on clouds, was actually filmed in a swimming pool. It may sound cheesy, but it actually works pretty well. With just a few added props - a dawn-colored backdrop, a few fake clouds covering the edge of the pool, air mattresses the actors lie on covered with cloud-like material - you find yourself accepting this even though you know it was done in a pool. The filmmakers also managed to wangle permission to shoot on some impressive locations, like a large and complex industrial plant used for the backdrop of Winston's fantasy of being a mad scientist.

Not all of these dream sequences work, though. There is that sequence where Winston dreams he is a vice cop in what is supposed to be a parody of Miami Vice. Not only is the movie's idea of parody pretty lame (the humor doesn't get higher than naming Winston's character "Socket" and his black partner "Stubbs"), but the sequence is stretched past the breaking point and seems to go on forever. (And what's with that skateboard gang that suddenly appears?) Later in the movie, Winston has another fantasy while in the library where he is a rock and roll star. There's nothing instantly wrong with that idea, but again it's how it's executed. In fact, the problem with that fantasy is also a problem found in that Miami Vice segment - and all throughout the movie, as a matter of fact. This reoccurring problem I'm talking about is that Daredreamer is a very '80s movie. That rock and roll fantasy has all the big hair, extremely outlandish costumes, and certain other heavy stylish touches that were popular at the time but now come across as clownish and embarrassing to see. While the rest of the movie never gets as excessive in its '80s viewpoint as that sequence alone, there are still a number of moments spread throughout that are seriously dated. In fact, I think that may be why the movie never got serious distribution; it seems that the movie was made for a long period of time during the '80s, and by the time it was completed it was already looking dated.

Another problem of significance was that there was one aspect of Winston's fantasies that had a great amount of potential, but the movie instead almost completely ignores it. It comes when Winston is immersed in There's more than one way to enjoy a cup of teaone of his daydreams, when all of a sudden he is surprised to find himself face-to-face with Jennie (LaTourelle, Terror Firmer), another student at the school. Subsequently, Winston learns that Jennie loves to daydream as well, and they somehow have a power that not only makes their daydreams connect, but makes their daydreams almost seem like real life. This is a fascinating premise, and I was really looking forward for it to be further explained and expanded upon as the rest of the movie unfolded. Unfortunately, the movie pretty much abandons anything further with this idea, as well as somewhat limiting Winston and Jennie's further interactions. There is a sweetness, a real chemistry between Noah and LaTourelle whenever they are together. The movie's often whimsical attitude and lighthearted dream sequences do provide some additional and very welcome gentleness, but at the same time there is a more barbed streak running throughout, and the two attitudes don't mix well. For a movie concerning dreams and quests for happiness and success, there is a surprisingly adult tone bubbling in the background. There's one instance of nudity, as well as a liberal sprinkling of adult language, including two utterances of the most foul of foul words (as the movie reviewer at CAPAlert would put it *)

Yet at the same time, this adult-oriented material has a straightforward honesty to it that doesn't come across as exploitive or an attempt to give the audience a cheap shock. The nudity is shown during a dream sequence, a dream concerning a particular kind of embarrassment in front of one's peers that I think all of us have personally dreamt at one time or another. And while the young people in the movie sometimes use words of an adult nature, the instances that they choose to utter such words are just like the ones that compel real young people to use these words. When Winston is at a loss about what topic he should choose for his class presentation, his somewhat exasperated friend Max bluntly tells him "Just pick a topic, and bullsh*t!" - which is exactly what a friend would say in real life. Later, when a girl Winston has a crush on expresses her disgust at him, she uses those two most-foul utterances as heavy punctuation in a short but very nasty put-down - just like what a real snotty teenage girl would actually say. It's a surprisingly powerful little moment, and you really feel Winston's subsequent hurt feelings. There are two equally emotionally devastating moments later in the movie - Winston in the principal's office, and bumping into Jennie afterwards - that you actually find yourself squirming while watching, because both scenes are so painfully realistic.

For an almost entirely amateur cast, the level of acting in this movie is surprisingly good. There are a few actors who come across almost unbearably bad with"How do my fillings look?" just a few words, but fortunately these particular individuals play minor and inconsequential roles. It's also undeniable that all the actors playing students, including Noah himself, are clearly and considerably past their teenage years. But after a while you stop noticing this, and actually start seeing these characters as teenagers. Despite having not been teenagers for years, the actors clearly still remember both what this time was like, and how they acted. Their recreations of their memories are unusually accurate. It's not a surprise that Noah is the one who steals the show. Well, it is more or less his baby, and he is the central figure in all of this. But it's hard to label this movie a vanity project, since Noah turns out to be a good fit for this role. With just a mere change of expression on his face, he can instant transform into anything from a poker-faced high school demi-god, all the way to a sad sack of a teenager. He's also able to use his voice well to express some kind of extreme feeling, which unsurprisingly hits its peak in the musical numbers; the emotional confessing of his most treasured desires in the climatic Dare To Dream number hits a real wallop. Though the other songs don't reach that great height, they are immensely enjoyable, filled with pep and a good amount of humor.

It probably isn't a mystery as to if Winston manages to conquer his problems and find success. Though the ending may be what viewers are hoping for, it is not completely satisfying. The events that turn Winston's life around go by too quick, without enough explanation as to how these events affect Winston and what he subsequently does. Plus, one or two of Winston's problems are forgotten about instead of being given some kind of clear resolution. But Winston is a nice guy, and even though we might get as exasperated with his constant zoning out as his friend Max, we do hope his life turns around - and a flawed happy ending is better than no happy ending at all. I'm a sucker for a movie where the little guy struggles and wins against all odds, and that makes my fondness of Daredreamer grow even more. Will this little guy of a movie ever break free of obscurity and become better known? Let's hope so.


* At least I assume it's the same word the CAPAlert guy claims is "the most foul of foul words". I've e-mailed him a few times asking him if he could confirm if the word he's thinking of is the same one I am, as well as asking him what criteria he used to determine that word was "most foul". So far I haven't received any response.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check Amazon for movie soundtrack (CD)

See also: Didn't You Hear, The Fantasticks, Shock Treatment

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