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There’s a certain traditional feel to a rebellious teens-on-the-run film, one that has long been the foundation for coming-of-age movies, finding itself comfortable in a number of genres. Most build upon the stark differences between the young lovers, and the oppressions they face in the adults who seem bent on stopping them. With Mean Dreams, it is a mix of romance and crime that drive two people together in a well-directed and often convincing drama that is earnest if not overly-familiar.
We meet Casey Caraway (Sophie Nélisse), a teenager just moved into the county, living in a rundown home on a stretch of flat open land with her police officer and widower father Wayne (Bill Paxton), a hardened man who takes to drink and extreme abuse. Across the way is an old ranch where she enounters Jonas Ford (Josh Wiggins), another teen living under the thumb of a tough-minded farmer and his off-kilter wife.
The two teens connect immediately in a desperately small town, and when Wayne senses Jonas is moving in on the family, he violently shuts down the relationship. After Jonas witnesses something disturbing, it ignites a passion within the boy to take action. This leads to a plan involving some illegal activity Wayne’s got himself tied up with, and as options run spare, the two take to running … and being hunted.
Directed by Nathan Morlando, Mean Dreams is a film of absolutes, one driven by inflexible characters that rigidly maintain their lot in the story. These are people with singular ambitions and at least make the story clear in terms of black and white. Spun with a string of flowery and poetic dialogue that is unconventional if not unrealistic, the film plays out more like a fable where the kids use walkie-talkies to communicate and talk with existentialisms that layer what is admittedly a beautifully-photographed experience.
What Morlando, and screenwriters Kevin Coughlin and Ryan Grassby do best, is capture that upstart rush of first love with two good performances from Nélisse and Wiggins, both giving some affecting performances even if they are led by a number perfunctory clichés that push them forward. Cars fail when they need to, shop owners are appropriately corruptible, things are seen at just the right time, and so forth. Still, the young actors do well in scenes that are mostly heavy as the weight of their stories burden upon them. Wiggins especially is authentic and drives the movie forward.
As for Paxton, in one of his last appearances, he is strong, as usual, playing the trope-ish bad cop with proven conviction. He has always had great range, slipping easily into roles on both sides of good and evil. While his part is mostly supporting, he levels tremendous menace, and it’s his lingering presence that best serves the story, a truth that there is evil in the world and it is ever on the move. It’s a reminder of how much he will be missed.
Mean Dreams never exactly challenges the viewer but there is an honesty to it that elevates the film above where it might have wallowed. Offering a few good twists on the theme, the film improves as it treks onward, leading to unexpected places and no easy answers. While it’s not terribly original, it does have impact and delivers a few truly harrowing moments that resonate.
Movie description: Mean Dreams is a 2017 thriller about two teens who take to living on the lamb when they find themselves in serious trouble.
Director(s): Nathan Morlando
Actor(s): Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, Bill Paxton