Obviously, when Margot Robbie’s name gets attached to anything, I’ll take notice. But the strange little 2019 holdover Dreamland was a work I knew nothing about until a couple of weeks ago. In this Miles Joris-Peyrafitte-directed piece, Robbie plays wounded, fugitive, Depression-era bank robber Allison Wells, who has been making her way across Texas with her partner Perry Montro (Garrett Hedlund) until a botched job results in several deaths, including police officers and a little girl. The robbers are separated, and Wells ends up hiding out in the barn belonging to the Evans family, where she is discovered by teen son Eugene (Finn Cole, “Peaky Blinders”), who decides to nurse her back to health and help her escape to Mexico.
Since the farm has been ravaged by multiple dust storms, the barn doesn’t get much use, making it safe for Wells to hide there, eve if she is eager to leave as soon as she’s healthy. And because she’s played by Robbie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Birds of Prey), naturally young Eugene falls madly in love with her, even after he discovers that she’s lied to him about certain aspects of what led her to the farm. Eugene also has a tumultuous home life, with his mother (Kerry Condon), sheriff stepfather (Travis Fimmel), and younger sister Phoebe (Darby Camp); an older version of Phoebe (voiced by Lola Kirke) serves as our narrator. Eugene has no real desire to stay on the farm any longer than he has to, and he sees Wells’ arrival as his way out as well, even though he doesn’t have a real plan beyond leaving with her, or at least being entertained by the romantic idea of it.
I suppose Dreamland is a coming-of-age story about Eugene, but most such stories are identifiable by the audience, who is going to have to strain to find the universal qualities in his experience with this criminal. If it’s in fact meant to be a love story, it doesn’t really work either because Wells is so consistently dishonest with Eugene that they never really form a bond until very late in the film. And even then, I didn’t fully trust Wells’s actions or motivations. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure out what an actor of Robbie’s caliber is doing in this movie at all. It’s a good-looking film that captures the dead-end life in a small town to some believable degree, but Robbie is better than this. Featuring a cast of largely forgettable performances reciting fairly standard-issue dialog, she’s really the only standout in this work. Even the ending misses the emotional peak it needs in order to really standout in one’s mind.
Dreamland feels like another pandemic second-chance film that would never have gotten even this level of attention were it not for studios pushing their higher-profile films into 2021. Robbie is a known quantity who somehow got hoodwinked into being in this, and it certainly got me to watch it. But that doesn’t mean you should, unless you’re a completist of the actress’s work. That’s really the only reason to check out this aggressively average crime drama/love story/coming-of-age tale.
The film is now available virtually, via Facets Virtual Cinema.
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