Sweet and bittersweet Dreamin' Wild brings forgotten music back to life
As with all aspects of the entertainment industry, the music landscape is littered with the shattered dreams of thousands of singers who never quite made it. The difference between one person succeeding and another failing can be minute, as there are innumerable lucky factors like timing, location, and more that play a part in aspiring artists being heard at all.
Dreamin’ Wild is the true story of two never-weres who somehow got a second chance. In the film, we meet Donnie (Casey Affleck) and Joe Emerson (Walton Goggins) in 2011, 32 years after they put out their one-and-only album, Dreamin’ Wild. Matt Sullivan (Chris Messina), who works for a small music label that specializes in boosting forgotten projects, approaches them out of the blue to let them know that, against the odds, the album has found a new generation of fans.
As Donnie, Joe, and their family grapple with the prospect of the duo restarting a music career, the film alternates the current timeline with flashbacks to 1979, watching the younger Donnie (Noah Jupe) and Joe (Jack Dylan Grazer) make the album. In both timelines, Donnie is serious and meticulous, while Joe is just happy to be spending time with his brother and having fun making music.
Written and directed by Bill Pohlad, the film is both sweet and bittersweet. When you hear songs like “Baby,” “Dream Full of Dreams,” and “Good Time,” they feel like classics that have been played on the radio forever. But in reality, the album barely made it outside of their hometown of Fruitland, Washington, with Donnie settling into a life running a music studio and playing in a band-for-hire in nearby Spokane with wife Nancy (Zooey Deschanel).
Pohlad does a fantastic job contrasting the attitudes of Donnie and Joe as they re-enter a world they thought they had left behind. He creates a slow build, with Donnie’s dourness and Joe’s enthusiasm making for fascinating insights into both brothers’ lives. Through both the adult and younger scenes, we really get to know what makes each of them tick, and the way Pohlad plays it so that they exist as humans instead of caricatures gives the story extra depth.
Although the film surely embellishes certain parts of the brothers’ story, the remarkable thing about it is how true to life it feels. Pohlad is not trying to sell some pie-in-the-sky version of events; real life is much more complicated and he makes sure to show the good, the bad, and the ugly of how the sudden shift affected their lives.
Special credit should go to the casting department. Even though Affleck & Jupe and Goggins & Grazer don’t especially look like each other, both pairs give spookily similar performances so that you truly believe they are playing the same people. Also great is Beau Bridges as their father, a role that could have been thankless and forgettable, but winds up being the heart of the film.
There’s nothing flashy about Dreamin’ Wild, and that’s what makes it so compelling. Almost everyone can relate to a dream dashed or deferred, and the empathetic and honest way with which this film deals with the reality of one such situation makes for a great watch.
Dreamin' Wild is now playing in theaters.