Canada at Cannes: First 'Mean Dreams' Reactions (Updated)

Sophie Nélisse stars as Casey in Mean Dreams.
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures.
Nathan Morlando’s Mean Dreams is Canada’s first feature to screen at Cannes this week. The response is disappointing. This second feature from the director of the 2011 breakout Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster stars Monsieur Lazhar’s Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, Colm Feore, and Bill Paxton, the latter of whom is drawing especially negative remarks for what’s said to be a brutally over-the-top performance. (Why do we keep casting him?) The response from the film’s Sunday premiere at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes is generally mixed with reviews generally calling the film handsomely shot but derivative. Most reactions cite Terrence Malick’s Badlands as an influence, but the few reviews to emerge cite so many perceptible homages that the derivativeness seems to be the one consensus across the board. Reactions on social media seem stronger than those in the trades, so we’ll update this post as the film has additional screenings at Cannes.

Variety: fatally derivative… an unconvincing, autumn-clothed youth-in-peril thriller so in thrall to Malick’s debut that even the cadence of its title seems a homage…. Despite its vague U.S. setting, this Canuck-shot production functions most flatteringly as an advertisement for the Ontario Film Commission, with the area’s fogged-mirror lakes and rusty fall foliage providing cinematographer Steve Cosens with his most postcard-ready shots.

The Hollywood Reporter: The acknowledged influences of Canadian director Nathan Morlando in Mean Dreams are even higher yardsticks: Badlands and No Country for Old Men. It's not surprising that this Northern Gothic thriller about young lovers on the run doesn't come close to any of those progenitors. But it does mostly keep you watching with its somber mood and the melancholy beauty of its visuals… Despite some excellent craft elements, this ultimately feels like the kind of sub-Sundance fare that gets consigned to a VOD life.

Screen: There are vague attempts at a mashed up fairytale vibe to Mean Dreams, with Wayne as the Big Bad Wolf and Jonas and Casey as a latterday Hansel and Gretel. One character even remarks about the trail of crumbs they have left in their wake. That is never fully developed, and the promise of a latter-day Badlands is equally unfulfilled.

El antepenultimo mohicano: somewhat predictable and trite… magnificent naturalistic photography and loyalty to their humble beginnings, no gimmicks or pretentious artifice; a modesty that leads her to proclaim himself as the Badlands for teenagers.

Cinema Teaser: If Mean Dreams is Canadian, it feels profoundly American… we could be sceptical, but we’re ultimately conquered by this film and left wondering if it announces a director to watch. [Si Mean Dreams est canadien, il a pourtant l'air profondément américain... On partait un peu sceptique, on finit plutôt conquis par cette belle fuite en avant amoureuse et inquiète qui annonce un réalisateur à suivre.

Toronto Star: The land is strong in this film, as it was last year in Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant, set around Thunder Bay. And history also seems to be repeating itself in the rapturous greeting here for a new Canadian film and a fresh take on a familiar genre.

Toute la culture: The two young actors, Sophie Nélisse and Josh Wiggins, are a convincing duo and they carry the film on their shoulders. We shouldn't forget to mention the bad guy played by an unrecognizable Bill Paxton. [Les deux jeunes acteurs, Sophie Nélisse et Josh Wiggins forment un duo très convaincant et portent le film sur leurs épaules. Il ne faudrait surtout pas oublier de mentionner le bad guy de l’histoire interprété par le méconnaissable Bill Paxton]

Indiewire:  It's Paxton, however, who injects "Mean Dreams" with a palpable sense of menace. Scowling at Jonas whenever he catches up to him, and grinning just as creepily when he takes control, he's a terrific embodiment of the harsh world holding the film's central characters down at every turn. He's aided in that task by the movie's delicate cinematography, which oscillates from copper-tinted outdoor scenery to shadowy nighttime exchanges that oscillate from warmth to utter dread.

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