Movie info via Rotten Tomatoes:
Dreamin’ Wild, the true story of love and redemption, is about what happened to singer/songwriter Donnie Emerson and his family when the album he and his brother recorded as teens was rediscovered after thirty years of obscurity and was suddenly hailed by music critics as a lost masterpiece. While the album’s rediscovery brings hopes of second chances, it also brings long-buried emotions as Donnie, his wife Nancy, brother Joe, and father Don Sr. come to terms with the past and their newly found fame.
Dreamin’ Wild is a piercing, quietly, emotional, film about how teenage hopes can inform or haunt one’s adult future. The true story of Donnie Emerson, who made an album when he was a teen and how it became a discovered masterpiece 30 years later, is all about reawakened ambitions given a second chance.
Casey Afleck plays Emerson, a struggling musicians who lives in Washington state. His small recording studio is going under and may need to declare bankruptcy. Affleck wonderfully conveys Emerson’s existential crisis, how he shoulders burdens without asking for audience sympathy. The partial flashback plot has Emerson either interacting with his younger self (Noah Jupe) or recalling teen memories. Donnie’s younger self dreamed of fame and his adult self lives with the after effects- a struggling wedding band and a failing recording studio. The earlier album and the present day studio was financed at great financial cost by his dad, Don Sr. (Beau Bridges), who believed wholeheartedly in Donnie’s talent.
That’s only half the story told in Fruitland by Steven Kurutz, the New York Times article that Dreamin’ Wild is adapted from. The second chance has shrunk the acreage of the family’s once 1,700 acre timber farm. Donnie Jr lives with the disappointment, shame and guilt he thinks he caused his father, even if it was all a gift, freely given with no regrets if it all failed.
More importantly, Donnie no longer feels the passion those songs gave him. That part of his life has closed and recreating it only spurs his self doubts, his perfectionism, his ego which demands he strike out on his own with new material. Donnie doesn’t want to be a cover band version of himself, and his brother Joe (Walton Goggins as the adult, Jack Dylan Grazer as the teen version) middling drumming is only holding his perfect dreams back. Joe has built a life devoted to the farm, the family business, a life apart from music. For Donnie there is no such separation. His life is music. Donnie can’t find a meeting point with Joe there. He can’t understand why Joe can’t pick up from where they left off.
Bill Pohlad, who wrote the screenplay and directs, has pulled off a rich and deeply moving meditation on what music can mean in a life. How it can break dreams . How music can mend them as well.
As an ensemble Dreamin’ Wild is the best acted movie I have seen this year. The troupe easily depicts the complex nature of family love- how even the strongest bonds can become entwined with regrets and self-recrimination. The performances given by Jupe and Grazer, as the young versions of Don and Joe, carry all the threads of the complicated adult family dynamic that will eventually take shape. Watching them is like peering into the brothers’ future. All this can’t be easy to pull off- and yet, Pohlad does it effortlessly.
The music, which feature the original Dreamin’ Wild album songs, functions as a main character. Emerson’s supposed single, Baby weaves through the film, a listless ghost. It’s single line- Yes, Oh Baby– is a winsome call for love, home, the promises of the past, the hopes of a present future, even the disappointments. The fact that we can listen to it on constant repeat, if one desires, is a miracle of second chances. It’s the essence of the teenage rock ’n’ roll dream fulfilled, better late than never, and the lost years in between only make its sound sweeter.
Dreamin’ Wild gets a 4.0 out of 5 or an A-. It’s available on Hoopla, a streaming service available for free from most metropolitan library systems.
by Steven Kurutz
- Jim Burke
- Bill Pohlad
- Kim Roth
- Viviana Vezzani
- Karl Spoerri
- River Road Entertainment
- Zurich Avenue
- Innisfree Pictures
- September 7, 2022(Venice)
- August 4, 2023