Dreamer is another one of those family films--based on a true story no less--that makes you feel guilty for not liking it because it means so well. The film revolves around the Cranes who have worked on their Kentucky horse farm for generations. But gifted horseman Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) loses his love for the job when the farm hits hard times. His estranged father Pop (Kris Kristofferson) feels like his son has given up unnecessarily. Even Ben’s young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) can’t get through to her dad. The only way this family can heal is by helping an injured horse named Sonya get ready for a seemingly impossible goal: to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Say it together: “Awww!” At least the film gets it half right in its casting. Russell is perfect as the beleaguered Ben a man who needs a little inspiration to get back on track and he thankfully never takes it over the top. Same goes for Kristofferson who is aptly crusty and unwilling to give his son an inch--that is until his granddaughter and that darned horse melt his heart. And the family resemblance is uncanny; apparently the two actors have been told quite often how much they look like each other. The one misstep here is Fanning. Yes she is an extraordinarily gifted actress for her age but Cale should have been played by a happy sunny child. The oh-so-serious Fanning doesn’t really qualify. Also Elisabeth Shue as the mom is all wrong. A horse farmer’s wife? Please. Writer-director John Gatins takes a big gamble making his directorial debut with a movie about an underdog horse. First there’s the underdog part. This year seems a bit saturated with the plot device what with films like Cinderella Man and most recently Greatest Game Ever Played. Second there’s the whole horse thing. It’s just going to be hard to top the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit--the quintessential true horse-racing movie to beat them all. True Dreamer is based on a true story and is nicely--albeit conventionally--framed. But the film isn’t unique in any way. It’s the same feel-good family stuff we’ve been swallowing all year. See? I told you I’d feel guilty for knocking it.
Based on the bestseller by Nicolas Sparks the film begins with Duke (James Garner) and Allie (Gena Rowlands) an inseparable couple living in a nursing home. While Duke remembers their life together Allie who suffers from progressive dementia does not. Their only bond is a faded notebook from which Duke reads to Allie every day telling her the same story over and over. It's a sweeping tale of two South Carolina teens country boy Noah (Ryan Gosling) and city gal Allie (Rachel McAdams) who spend one glorious summer in the early 1940s falling madly in love. Unfortunately the couple is soon separated first by her disapproving parents and then by World War II but after seven years apart after taking different paths they are passionately reunited. There's a catch though; Allie is now faced to choose between the man she once loved and the successful businessman (James Marsden) she is engaged to. It's really no surprise who the young Allie chooses in the end--but for Duke the only thing that keeps him going is the fact that every day somehow through the power of this story the mentally impaired Allie miraculously remembers their love if only for a very brief moment before slipping back into oblivion. Tears being jerked from your eyes yet?
The talented cast certainly elevates The Notebook's romantic drudgery. McAdams takes a departure from all the Mean Girls she's played lately (including The Hot Chick) and easily wins you over as the spirited young Allie while the usually intense Gosling also tackles something lighter so to speak than his previous darker roles such as his Jewish-turned-American Nazi leader in The Believer. While infusing a certain sense of brooding and melancholy into Noah especially in the years he spends pining for Allie Gosling manages to exude Noah's genuine warmth and sensitivity as well. And between the two of them real sparks fly as the actors paint a fresh and inviting picture of young love that stands the test of time. Marsden is completely wasted however as Allie's fiancé Lon a upstanding Southern gentleman Allie's parents expect her to marry who offers little as to why Allie should stay with him. As the older contingency veterans Garner and Rowlands who take the sappiest material and turn it into something meaningful inspire some truly heart-ripping moments as the aging couple holding onto their love as tight as they can. In the supporting cast Joan Allen has some shining moments as Allie's uptight mother with a secret of her own.
In bringing the popular novel about enduring love to life director Nick Cassavetes (Unhook the Stars) may have used his own experiences having seen his parents--the late John Cassavetes and his lady love and muse Gena Rowlands--play out their own real-life love affair. Cassavettes gets to the heart of the material right away and permeates the screen with the beautiful surroundings of South Carolina where The Notebook was filmed. We glide through lush moss-filled swamps and sleepy Southern towns marvel at languid shots of the South Carolina coastline. It's very clear Cassavetes has a way with actors much like his father did gently coaxing realistic performances from his young somewhat untested leads while allowing old guards like Garner and Rowlands to simply work their magic (imagine telling your Oscar-nominated mother how to act. Right). The problem is the story itself which not only offers nothing new to the romance genre but also isn't very compelling. There are no great tragedies (save perhaps for the whole dementia thing) no real villainous presence to keep the lovers apart no peril at all. It's boy-meets-girl boy-loses-girl boy-wins-girl-back--ho-hum. Where's the sudsy soap opera when you need it?
PASADENA, Calif., July 25, 2000 - Members of the Television Critics Association have now been holed up in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for two weeks eating catered food, drying hands on warm restroom towels, and never fearing to ask the tough questions. On Monday, it was The WB's turn to show off their new fall schedule additions, so the tough questions mostly dealt with the "Felicity" haircut controversy.
For the record, no one who appears on camera at the WB will ever cut his or her hair again.
The day started off fast when the entire cast of the new sketch comedy show "Hype" came out in character and ripped the place up. Cast member Frank Caliendo then returned later in the day to wake us up with what could have been 15 minutes worth of stand-up material, condensed into a blistering five-minute set. Co-producer and SNL veteran Terry Sweeny billed the show as "Laugh-in 2000." If the talent is any indication, "Hype" might just live up to its name.
"Drew Carey" producer Bruce Helford offers a welcome repackaging of Nikki Cox in "Nikki," a (somewhat) innovative comedy that features big dance numbers in each episode (it's funnier than it sounds). Helford later assured us that big song and dance routines will be back in vogue this fall.
Former "Beverly Hills 90210" producer Darren Starr is offering a clever comedy-within-a-drama in "Gross Pointe," a show about the actors of an Aaron Spelling-like night-time soap. Starr was grilled about the controversial decision to change a certain character that was similar to a certain person who may or may not have gotten a role because her father produced the show. Starr's best answer was his first, "who are you talking about?"
At the "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" Q-and-A with Melissa Joan Hart and her mother-producer Paula Hart, we learned in no uncertain terms that "Caroline Rhea (absent with a broken toe) is under contract and cannot be spared" if she were to be offered Kathie Lee Gifford's chair next to Regis in the morning. So, put that one to bed.
Of all the new WB shows, watch for "Gilmore Girls," a warm, earthy, dramatic comedy sure to win a strong following. It's interesting how the world is populated by lots of single mothers, yet they are still a rarity on TV. Gilmore Girls" might change that.
Finally, considering last year's after-party got out of hand (word was the WB's young stars got a little too rowdy), this year the network decided to rein things in and go a little classier at the Il Fornaio restaurant in Old Town Pasadena. All the stars politely mingled with the journalists (having learned these parties are just supposed to look like fun, not actually be fun) to lob out a few more crucial sound bites about Keri Russell's hair, then left early (perhaps to party somewhere else).