Dakota Fanning: Hollywood Whack-a-Mole
Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story / Brandy Barber
Film Reviews | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()
A girl’s unlimited faith in an ailing racehorse manages to uplift her dysfunctional family, save her home, and buoy the spirits of all around her; that is the tissue-thin plot of Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. The average feces-throwing chimpanzee could grasp that from viewing the treacle-y trailer for Disney’s latest feel-good warm-fuzzy-fest. Actually sitting through the contrived two-hour melodrama seems moot. Yet, I did. And I’m angry about it. Let’s not beat around the bush — you didn’t come to this website to read a sensitive, thoughtful review for this movie. You’re here because you, like me, have an itsy-bitsy, onyx Grinch heart and you hate melodramatic, formulaic crap. And I will not disappoint you in this regard. I’m going to let you know that Dreamer is no less than the glitter-coated turd you supposed it to be.
Before I talk about the film itself, I’d like to discuss the cast. Let us begin with the force that is Dakota Fanning, shall we? It would seem that this little howler monkey has managed to undermine the child actor anti-exploitation legislature that Jackie Coogan fought so hard for in the golden age of cinema. In the tradition of Frankie Muniz and Haley Joel Osment, Fanning keeps popping up like a horrid little whack-a-mole game at a carnival, appearing in no less than 75 percent of all the big-budget studio schlock Hollywood has shat out in the past two years. Listen up, Dakota. Take a lesson from former child star Christina Ricci. Give it a rest or all you’ll have to look forward to is the threat of being groped by creepy neo-Republican Vincent Gallo after he kidnaps you from your dance class in a pretentious “art” film. Ick. Tell your mom to buy her own Lexus and pass up your next project — lay off already!
Next in my shame-on-you roll call goes to Oscar-nominated actress Elisabeth Shue. What. The. Fuck. Elisabeth! You almost won the top Hollywood honor for straddling and dry-humping Nicholas Cage on a chaise lounge whilst dumping Jack Daniels on your perky breasts (without knocking Cage’s hairpiece askew — good work)! What, then, is this nonsense? Your talent is wasted playing a cloying, one-dimensional “poor but proud” housewife role. Not only do you spend the movie mewling and spewing moral platitudes while sporting impeccable hair highlights and carrying a designer handbag, but you beg your husband to let you work outside the home — AS A WAITRESS. Thanks for accepting a challenging role that displays the rich, diverse lives of women everywhere. You’ve risen to the challenge!
But it’s not over yet. Because I want to know something, Kurt Russell — why is it that every middle-aged male actor has to play a wacky Dad these days? Jesus. Tim Robbins, Dennis Quaid, Steve Martin … these are talented actors playing shallow supporting-men roles that tend to be second fiddle to smarmy plots. Perhaps this role was some sort of attempt to impress Goldie Hawn during your recent separation to prove you had some sort of dignity. Note: It failed.
OK, that’s better. Now that I’ve used my puerile words to sucker punch an 11-year-old child and taken proverbial dumps on two talented actors whom I have greatly appreciated in the past, let me unleash my anger on this blatantly formulaic, trite attempt to trump National Velvet by writer/director John Gatins. And I am indeed angry, make no bones about it. Because this is a movie that had some potential to sneak up on me, bop me on the head and make me care. The material is all there, and there was a way it could have been penned and directed that lent it something unique in the cannon of “family fare.” It could have been dear, like The Sandlot was. Instead, it managed to make me feel preached at and pandered to in one fell swoop. Never once was I able to emotionally invest in the film, because it spent a good hour using its fairly clunky dialogue to hammer exposition into my skull. Conversations between the actors lacked truthful emotion and instead resembled beat-by-beat script breakdowns that were so fastidious about setting up story points for the big race finale that it was laughable. That this choice was made is confusing, as most of these Disney feel-good family fun hours tend to be light on this type of thing and heavy on the ubiquitous Motown song & dance montage. Not so in Dreamer. No. Instead I was treated to lengthy and unnecessary expositions on the life of race horse trainers and the minutiae of each characters’ personal struggles (“I fell off my horse!”; “You never loved me!”; “We’re gonna lose our farm,” ad nauseam). Perhaps most upsetting, I had the specifics of horse breeding made more then clear to me. Ewww. You don’t want to hear Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning banter back and forth about “studs” named “Grand Slam,” or illustrate the use of a “teaser pony,” I assure you.
The usually delightful Luis Guzman is relegated to the sassy ethnic comic-relief role, which adds insult to injury. I don’t know what the director was going for, but the Guzman’s Spanish-laced interactions with Fanning are oddly flirtatious. Far more disturbing than the pedophile angle is Fanning’s acting. I burst out laughing when I realized she reminded me of none other than Vicki from “Small Wonder.” Her character, Cale, (isn’t that a type of salad fixin’?) has dialogue that is completely beyond the grasp of someone who is Fanning’s actual age. In fact, one exchange between her and Russell was closer to a divorce fight scene than a realistic battle of wills between a child and father.
At no time did the movie do what this type of underdog tale absolutely must do to achieve the desired result of the audience’s genuine excitement. Instead, it plodded through script devices and exhausted emotional devices we’ve all seen many times before, done much better. I never doubted that our “dark horse” Dreamer, would win. Instead, I prayed for the minutes to fly by so that I could leave the theater before I was forced by my pure annoyance to groan out loud or, worse still, make fart noises (the kids behind me did it for me, thankfully). Dreamer was quite a nightmare.
Brandy Barber is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can check out her weblog Hatefully Charming.