‘Dreamin’ Wild’ review: Casey Affleck stars in a story of musical ambition that hits a lot of right notes

It was perhaps music critic Robert Christgau who once observed that the hardest works to write are those that get a B+, or are just on the verge of an A-. Notice, this could have been said by Roger Ebert or a critic of The News84Media or any critic since the dawn of time. The thing is, it’s the imperceptible flaws that dampen enthusiasm that are almost as impossible to define as anything that makes something extraordinary. What is the ineffable gap between very good and excellent?

In a sense, dreaming wild relates to this margin of error. Based on a true story told in a journalism work called fruit land by Steven Kurutz, it is the story of two musical brothers, Don and Joe Emerson (Casey Affleck and Walton Goggins, respectively). In the early 1980s, when they were teenagers, the boys made an album, wild dreaming, this – thanks to Don’s prodigious natural musical talent and Joe’s lesser contribution to enthusiastic drumming if not always on time – turned out to be much better than one would expect from children living in the sticks and working in a home studio long before it was doable for most, let alone cool.

dreaming wild

The essential

A story of quasi-fame that almost nails her.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Out of Competition)
Cast: Casey Affleck, Noah Jupe, Zooey Deschanel, Chris Messina, Jack Dylan Grazer, Walton Goggins, Beau Bridges, Barbara Deering, Doug Dawson, Elizabeth O’Brien, Carson Verity, Amandaree Fox
Director/screenwriter: Bill Pohlad

1 hour 51 minutes

When the album was rediscovered and re-released on vinyl 30 years later, it praised blogs and early incarnations of social media, earning an 8 out of 10 in a review by the online music magazine. Fork. It’s a very good score, they have to explain it to their father Don Sr. (Beau Bridges), their biggest fan. Don Sr. may be a simple farmer, but he can see that an 8 out of 10 isn’t as good as a 10 out of 10.

The movie itself is kind of a B+, or a 7 or 8 out of 10. There are wonderful riffs here, and soulful generosity extended towards the kind of people who never get their due in many ways, the all wrapped around the irresistible but rarely explored the concept of success coming at the wrong time. But just when the film seems poised to deliver something searing in its cold wisdom, the whole turreted sandcastle is swept away by a wave of sentimentality and an engulfing pause, all closure and hugs.

Writer-director Bill Pohlad is best known for his work as a producer on many acclaimed recent feature films, including 12 years of slavery, Savage, Tree of life and A monster is calling. (Let’s quietly throw a veil over the last one he got producer credit for, the Sean Penn-directed shock The last face.) This is Pohlad’s third directorial effort, and it’s fascinating how well it echoes his last, Love & Mercyan underrated bio-portrait of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys made in 2014. In this film, Pohlad intercuts scenes showing a young Wilson played by Paul Dano producing his masterpiece, animal soundsand a later timeline about the mature Wilson (John Cusack) plagued by mental health issues and controlled by a sinister manager.

As Love & Mercythis film alternates chronologies: one taking place in 2011 just when dreaming wild is rediscovered and a setback in the day when Emerson’s younger brother, Donnie (Noah Jupe, lip-syncing superbly to Don Emerson’s original recordings) discovered an unceasing musical fruitfulness within himself, prompting him to write at times two or three songs a day.

Fortunately, young Donnie’s deeply loving father, Don Sr., was willing to do whatever he could to nurture his child’s talent. Yes, it’s “kid” in the singular, because although Donnie’s older brother, Joe (Jack Dylan Grazer), is dedicated and does his best to play drums and be in the band, he doesn’t didn’t have the same talent and he knew that in the 1980s. That’s why when the opportunity arose for Donnie to make a record with a solo label, Joe quietly stepped out of the spotlight and pursued a life closer to home, working on the farm a few yards from the house he grew up in. Don Sr. mortgages piece after piece of the family land to try to help Donnie keep his promise.

However, Donnie’s solo career doesn’t quite go as he planned, even though he stubbornly sticks to it for years. When we meet him as an adult, he’s husband to Nancy (Underutilized Zooey Deschanel) and father of two. They run a small recording studio in Spokane and perform gigs at weddings (she’s the drummer), playing covers in between twittering congratulations to the groom. When Matt Sullivan (Chris Messina) contacts the family to try and re-release their long-forgotten album on his label Light in the Attic – which specializes in music some might describe as outsider work by artists like The Shaggs and The Free Design – it’s almost too much. for Don (Jr.), who doesn’t feel the same connection to the material he created years ago. There’s a chance to perform live, but who’s going to play the drums – Joe, who’s rusty and never sounded better, or Nancy, who can stick to the beat and deserves the beat as much as Don?

A sin Love & Mercy, Pohlad demonstrates a real sense of musical creation, and it’s a joy to see a film that doesn’t dull the slow and overwhelming process of acting, or gloss over the hours that must pass in handy for making a musician Joe doesn’t really want to spend time on it, and no one at the showcase is likely to complain. But his brother will know, and it all leads to an explosive, finely executed after-show scene where Affleck can finally let loose after a performance that has been mostly uncomfortable smiles and sullen silences. In a way, it’s more or less the same as it served in Manchester by the sea; Casting him as Don Emerson Jr., a man of innate talent but problematic social skills, is almost fun on the nose, but he’s really, really good here. Goggins, a performer who never gets the recognition he deserves, defends himself beautifully as a man making the most of things despite all his disappointments and losses. The actors younger than the brothers match the counterparts note for note.

Curiously, while the echoes of Love & Mercy are obvious, watching this I remembered an even better movie that played here in Venice, The Banshees of Inisherin. It’s also a story about kindness versus talent, what we sacrifice to buy time to make art that could last, and the frustration we feel for people who oppose it. The movies make for a fascinating side-by-side comparison, but it’s not a simple case of history first repeating itself as a tragedy in Inisherin (which is mostly hilarious) and then as comedy in dream; although it has a classic happy ending, this latest film features a few laughable moments.