Dream Lover

Director: Nicolas Kazan
James Spader, Mädchen Amick, Bess Armstrong

I believe I have mentioned in at least one past review that I am a bachelor - one who is happy with his present marital status, but has recently found out that there may be someone suitable for me out there after all. There are a number of reasons why I decided to be single and stay single up to now, many of them coming from my various experiences with women when I was dabbling in the world of dating years ago. Personally, I found that all the things you have to do to first attract someone to go out with you was alone a lot of back breaking work. A lot of people say that appearances don't matter and that it's your inner self that counts the most, but I found that more often than not that appearances do matter - you have to wear clothing that will catch the eye of the opposite sex, you have to keep yourself well groomed, and quite often you have to have been blessed since birth with good looks. But let's say that your outside appearances do manage to catch the eye of someone of the opposite sex - is it clear sailing from that point on? Uh uh. Unless you want to risk being caught in a lie, you have to then start revealing your inner self to the person you are interested in, and hope that the person you are interested in will be attracted to your inner self. You have to hope that your occupation sounds steady and well-paying enough to the other person. You have to hope that your living arrangements also sound solid - there may be tough times ahead if you are still living with your parents. Most of all, you have to sound like you are presently responsible enough with your life that the person you are interested in will want to share this responsible life with you.

As you can see from what I described in the previous paragraph, it takes both a lot of hard work and good fortune to land someone as a romantic partner. And it takes a lot of work to make sure that you keep this person as a romantic partner for years to come. I don't think it's necessary for me to go into detail about the things you have to do to keep a romantic partner. But I would like to talk about something many of us don't do in order to keep a romantic partner. And that thing is telling of a secret in our past, a secret that is explosive enough that there is a high risk of losing the one you love should the secret be revealed. I think that practically everyone has at least one secret from their past that they desperately hope that no one, from a romantic partner to anyone they may pass in the street, will ever find out. I know that I have a few secrets that I hope will never be revealed to anyone, whatever relationship they might be to me. The reasons we keep such secrets to ourselves I think is pretty easy to answer. We want to appear to be the very best to everyone that we encounter. If we appear to be at our best, more likely than not things will go our way with anyone that we encounter and interact with. But if a secret from our past were to get out, well, things would more likely than not turn very difficult concerning the person or persons that know of the secret. The people that learn our secrets would very likely start to think of us in a very negative fashion, even if we have previously proven to the secret learning person that the rest of us is a decent person. There's no mistake about it - some secrets are best left as secrets.

I do know that some relationships can survive a negative secret being revealed. After all, there have been plenty of criminals over the years that once they have been released from jail, have managed to land a romantic partner who sticks with them even after the criminal past has been Dream Loverrevealed. Often I have wondered just how the ex-cons managed to present themselves and subsequently reveal their criminal past to their romantic interests in a way that didn't turn off these romantic interests. I know that if I were dating and I found out that my partner had broken a major law and had been imprisoned, more likely than not the relationship would end right there and then. As for any other kinds of big secrets, well, I guess it would depend. Better someone else have this problem instead of me. This whole big secret thing is the driving force behind the movie Dream Lover, and it made me curious enough to watch the movie to not only find out the secret, but see how the revelation was handled by the characters. The movie starts off by introducing us to its main character, Ray Reardon (Spader, Boston Legal).  He has had success as an architect, but has had recent bad luck in his personal life - he's gone through a divorce, which has devastated him. Not long after his divorce, he goes to a gallery and literally bumps into a woman named Lena (Amick, Twin Peaks). At the time she is very hostile towards Ray, but not long afterwards the two bump into each other again, and she is now more receptive to Ray. The two start dating, and it quickly turns into a whirlwind courtship. Ray and Lena soon get married, and settle into martial bliss, which includes having two children together. Well, it at least looks like bliss from an outside observer. During this time, Ray discovers that Lena has not told the truth on several occasions, and combined with some strange incidents makes him start to wonder just what secrets Lena may be hiding from him. He decides to start digging for answers... not knowing that what he may uncover will change everything he thinks about Lena.

As you can see from that plot description, the story of Dream Lover is essentially divided into two parts, the first part consisting of setting up the characters as well as the situation they get into, and the second part being when the fecal matter hits the fan and the consequences it brings. Each part is equally important when it comes to making the movie work, with each part depending on the other to be strong so that it itself has a good chance of being strong. I'll start my critique of the movie by taking a look at the first part of the movie, the setup. I felt that what happened in the first part of Dream Lover was pretty well done for the most part. For one thing, the movie manages to early on make Ray both a fully fleshed-out character and a sympathetic one. Although he has just been divorced, it's seen that he's on pretty good terms with his ex-wife. And while it's shown he's reluctant to get in the dating world again, it's made clear that he still has hope he will bump into the right woman. When he does bump into Lena, the movie manages to avoid the usual clichés by not having it be love at first sight - as was said in the previous paragraph, Lena is not receptive at first, but when the two meet later, she is believably more calm and receptive. The two's first date is sweet and gentle, both being a little shy while showing signs of being attractive to the other. The rest of this first part does make several large jumps in time to get to their marriage and the births of their children, but that's okay - what we have previously seen has been enough to make clear why Ray would make these giant steps with Lena and feel that their relationship is rock solid. Including the fact that there are some very pleasing steamy sequences between the two. (In fact, there are apparently even more erotic moments in the unrated version of the movie, but alas, I could only find the R-rated cut.)

As I said, Dream Lover's first part makes it clear why the character of Ray thinks he has found the right woman in Lena. That's not to say that there aren't clues in this first part that suggest something's not quite right with Ray's situation, but they are subtle enough that both the audience and Ray may not notice them. When things start to become a lot more suspicious and less subtle, Ray's reaction to them is at first understandable. At first, Lena gives out explanations that seem reasonable, but it's pretty clear that Ray doesn't want to uncover anything bad that might ruin the relationship with his dream lover. But as the onion starts to peel and reveal a possibly rotten core, Ray's actions remain believable. First he goes through her purse. Then he takes a trip to Texas to do some digging. His actions seem like those any reasonable man in his situation would do. Finally, he uncovers the real truth, a truth that breaks any lingering threads of reasonable doubt he might have, and he has The Big Confrontation with his wife. Naturally, I won't reveal what comes out and the consequences that it brings. I will say, however, that most of what happens here and subsequently happens does kind of strain credibility. All of what Lena had been hiding up to this point more or less had to depend on everybody involved doing and saying the right things for an incredible amount of time. To believe that anyone would go through this for so long with so much risk seems kind of implausible. Anyway, it leads to Ray being placed in a situation where the authorities think he's some kind of nut and he has to try and fight out of it. This part of the movie takes some considerable time, but I saw there were a few ways that Ray could have gotten out of it quicker if he used his brains. (For example, why not tell the authorities about the people he met in Texas?)

The often contrived feeling when Ray starts to find himself in his deep predicament is not the only problem to be found in Dream Lover. For some reason, writer/director Nicholas Kazan (who later wrote Homegrown) every so often interrupts the action by showing us Ray fantasizing about himself at a surreal carnival. These scenes seem to serve no real purpose except maybe to pad out the story. Another objection I had was with the ending of the movie. I will admit that in the last scene, the movie pulls out a neat final twist that I didn't see coming. What I objected to was that after this twist is pulled off, the movie abruptly ends, when some kind of epilogue (even a small one) after this twist was sorely needed. Though this problem and the others I have told you up to this point suggest that the screenplay really needed a final polish or two before filming started, I will say that the screenplay, as flawed as it might be, still had a good amount of power. As contrived as things got, all the same I was interested in how things would be wrapped up at the end. Dream Lover isn't a dull movie. It also happens to be a well made movie in several other aspects. The level of acting is very professional, not just with the two leads but also with the supporting players (Larry Miller adds some nice comic relief.) The movie is also very well photographed by Jean-Yves Escoffier, with rich colors that make things look bright and sleek despite what wasn't a gargantuan budget. And while his screenplay may not be perfect, Kazan does direct well enough that we can really feel the screws tightening bit by bit as the movie progresses. He's no Hitchcock, but he does manage in the end to make a thriller that is overall entertaining, and that's good enough for me.

(Posted December 16, 2017)

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See also: Breezy, Cheyenne Warrior, Lonely Hearts