Balding, bespectacled and bowed by the load of a thousand disappointments, Paul Matthews (Nicolas Cage) strikes via “Dream State of affairs” with a schlubby passivity. On the faculty the place he teaches evolutionary biology, his college students sigh and fidget; throughout a lesson on zebras, he explains that their stripes maintain them protected by making certain that they don’t stand out from the herd. Not standing out is Paul’s complete vibe.
Then he learns that, inexplicably, he has been popping up in individuals’s goals. At first, it’s simply the reveries of household and acquaintances — considered one of his daughters, a former girlfriend — however quickly his invasions unfold to finish strangers. A droll working joke has dream-Paul refusing to answer the dreamer’s cries for assist: In a single state of affairs, his daughter is being pummeled by falling objects whereas Paul calmly rakes leaves; in one other, a scholar is being menaced by a gore-soaked pursuer whereas Paul, sashaying previous, declines to intervene. In Paul’s world, as in our personal, it’s attainable to go viral by doing just about nothing.
This might seem to be a one-trick conceit; however the Norwegian author and director, Kristoffer Borgli, infuses his screenplay with a disappointment that foregrounds Paul’s long-burning want for recognition. At lunch with a former graduate college classmate (Paula Boudreau), who has just lately revealed the guide about ants that he himself has struggled to write down, he assaults her for stealing considered one of his concepts. Later, he pushes again defensively when a former girlfriend (Marnie McPhail Diamond) describes his inaction in her dream a couple of dying pal.
“You’re nonetheless doing that?,” she asks, incredulous. “Looking for the insult?” It’s maybe the film’s most vital line, including layers to a personality who may appear a idiot. However Paul is boring, not despicable, a vaguely resentful tutorial who’s cherished by his stoic spouse (Julianne Nicholson) and yearns to be included of their neighbor’s famed dinner events. His newfound movie star has him perplexed, then happy, and finally petrified when the film takes a darkish flip and the goals change into nightmares. Now Paul stands out. Now he will likely be hunted — and never solely on-line.
Pondering the draw back of notoriety and our willingness to alternate security for fame, “Dream State of affairs” is commonly humorous and often surreal. Borgli’s earlier function, “Sick of Myself” (2023), additionally examined somebody going to extremes to realize the eye she felt she deserved. Right here, although, he has extra concepts than area to execute them, and the film’s third act can really feel overloaded and indecisive of the place it desires to land. Sharp, unheralded cuts from dream to actuality go away us little time to get our bearings; but in addition they go away Cage free to roam the size and breadth of his appreciable performing vary. The sight of Paul, in his shabby parka and scrubby beard, try to re-enact a younger girl’s erotic dream — at her request — may make you wish to put your eyes out.
Full marks on this scene, although, to the terrific Dylan Gelula who, together with different supporting gamers like Michael Cera (as an promoting pup who desires Paul to hold a can of Sprite into individuals’s goals) and Tim Meadows (as Paul’s division head), assist floor the movie’s cringe comedy. Ultimately, “Dream State of affairs” is much less curious about cancel tradition than the fickleness of a mass viewers that may quickly swerve from adulation to condemnation — even when, like Paul, you actually haven’t completed something in any respect.
Dream State of affairs
Rated R for awkward groping and terrible outerwear. Operating time: 1 hour 42 minutes. In theaters.