To not forged about for developments, however what do the flicks of 2023 have towards balding, flatulent, socially awkward lecturers named Paul? Exhibit A, lately seen in “The Holdovers,” is Paul Hunham, an ill-tempered, foul-smelling historical past teacher who’s loathed by his college students, has no associates or household to talk of and spends the film schlubbing his manner towards some misty-eyed yuletide redemption. He’s performed by one other Paul (Giamatti), an actor who makes a speciality of down-on-their-luck sorts who, as Hunham himself places it, should not have “a face for love.”

Equally unromantic of face is Paul Matthews, a biology professor performed by a dowded-down Nicolas Cage within the patchily entertaining darkish comedy “Dream Situation.” Nebbishy to the ninth energy, Paul trudges via the film main along with his shiny white pate and massive glasses, typically sporting a parka whose grey fur lining is perhaps an extension of his beard. His voice is excessive and nasal; he laughs just a bit too onerous at his personal jokes. He exasperates his loving spouse, Janet (a effective Julianne Nicholson), and mortifies his teenage daughters (Lily Fowl and Jessica Clement). His lengthy, tenured tutorial profession is nonetheless rife with disappointment, to guage by an ungainly reunion with a former colleague whom Paul accuses of plagiarizing his (never-published) concepts.

These concepts deal with what he proudly calls “antelligence,” the pure and evolutionarily helpful tendency of organisms to rearrange themselves into communities. That gives one thing of a metaphor for Paul himself, who isn’t one to face out; it additionally lays some thematic groundwork for a film that may be very a lot concerning the so-called knowledge of crowds. By way of some mysterious and properly unexplained phenomenon, Paul begins showing in different individuals’s goals. Associates, members of the family, college students and whole strangers all attest to having nightmares about him, or reasonably nightmares during which he occurs to point out up as an onlooker. Because the dreamer is chased, attacked, injured or dragged away, Paul is all the time simply there, both passing via or watching unhelpfully from the sidelines. He’s a one-man demonstrator of the bystander impact in motion.

A woman looks sad.

Julianne Nicholson within the film “Dream Situation.”


It’s a grabber of a premise, a type of “A Nightmare on Elm Avenue” as reimagined by Charlie Kaufman. And for some time, the Norwegian writer-director Kristoffer Borgli mines from it a wealthy vein of metaphysical implication and what-the-hell weirdness. (And in addition some amiable humor: Tim Meadows performs the dean at Paul’s college.) The goals themselves are creepily and memorably staged, with unsettling zooms, ominous noises and odd dashes of prosthetic gore. And Borgli, who serves as his personal editor, weaves them into the narrative with a deftness that confounds our sense of what’s and isn’t actually occurring.

Paul’s passive conduct in goals is a dig at his personal ineffectuality in life; the mere concept of somebody so unmemorable changing into a celeb of the unconscious is a cruelly ironic jab. On the similar time, Borgli cleverly flips that joke on its head. He has, in any case, forged Cage, an actor who couldn’t disappear into a task if he tried, and who has grown solely extra self-regarding with time. That’s been delightfully obvious in current films like “Mandy,” “Pig” and “The Insufferable Weight of Large Expertise,” a meta-meditation on the agony and ecstasy of being Nicolas Cage. “Dream Situation” actually joins their firm, even when it finally falls wanting it.

Paul Matthews is a fiercely memorable loser, a tragic sack who bristles with recognizably Cageian power. However he’s additionally the fulcrum for a satire that takes energetic if scattershot intention at a broad array of cultural targets. Paul’s dream-crashing tendencies flip him right into a viral sensation (an end result that arguably requires extra suspension of disbelief than his popping up in everybody’s goals to start with, however by no means thoughts). He’s courted by a expertise company that, as led by a pitch-perfect Michael Cera, holds up a wry mirror to twenty first century influencer tradition. Paul, who simply needs to discover a writer for his e book, is immediately confronted with imbecilic pitches, vacuous company sponsorships, brazen flattery and one shocking occasion of sexual consideration.

A man screams in fright.

Nicolas Cage within the film “Dream Situation.”


It’s amusing, up to some extent. In dreamlogical phrases, Paul ultimately switches from passive to aggressive, from silent interloper to pure nightmare gasoline. And as he turns into Public Enemy No. 1, or what zoomers would time period the “predominant character,” “Dream Situation” morphs, to its detriment, right into a bland if more and more bloody satire of cancel tradition. It’s not simply that a few of Borgli’s materials already feels dated. (One Tucker Carlson joke would have performed higher earlier than April.) It’s that, in turning Paul right into a poster baby for the socially ostracized — an unlucky sufferer of the gang mentalities he’s spent his profession finding out — the film itself appears to shrink simply on the level when it must be increasing. It feels conceptually and imaginatively lowered.

The pure kinship between goals and films, nicely documented for the reason that introduction of cinema, can hardly be overstated. The perfect elements of “Dream Situation” are these goals, the sequences during which Borgli pushes the medium and himself into unsettling, hallucinatory territory. Right here it might be value noting that the film’s producers embody the director Ari Aster, himself an aficionado of waking-dream horror (“Hereditary,” “Midsommar”) and sad-sack portraiture (“Beau Is Afraid”). He’s a effective alternative of inspiration, even when this specific offshoot by no means fairly breaks freed from its Cage.

‘Dream Situation’

Ranking: R, for language, violence and a few sexual content material

Working time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Enjoying: Begins Nov. 10 at AMC Burbank 16; AMC Burbank City Heart 6; AMC the Grove 14, Los Angeles; AMC Century Metropolis 15

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