Talking Guilty Pleasures: ‘Dream a Little Dream’ (1989)

Dream_a_Little_Dream

Directed by Marc Rocco

Starring: Jason Robards, Corey Feldman, Piper Laurie, Meredith Salenger, Harry Dean Stanton, Corey Haim

* Published specifically for The Second So Bad It’s Good Blogathon hosted by Rebecca at Taking Up Room *

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Growing up as a child of the 1980’s, I watched a lot of videotapes over and over again as a major form of entertainment. One of the greatest things during that time was cruising through the aisles of the local Mom & Pop video store and picking out the coolest new releases with The Two Coreys. During the mid-to-late 80’s, Corey Feldman and Corey Haim were extremely popular and were the object of many young girls’ affections. Haim in particular got a lot of attention because he was very cute with the best smile that anyone could ask for. Feldman was more of a veteran in the industry, having appeared in commercials since he was just a small child and at the age of 9 landing his first major role as the voice of Young Cooper in Disney’s animated feature The Fox and the Hound. However, they both really shot to stardom through their roles in films aimed towards teenage audiences. The Lost Boys and License to Drive, released in 1987 and 1988 respectively, were their first ventures together and in both films, it was Haim who had the lead over Feldman. The situation was reversed in 1989 when Feldman earned top billing along with highly respected veteran actors Jason Robards and Piper Laurie in the film Dream a Little Dream; a picture that I consider to be one of their best collaborations.

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Synopsis

Bobby Keller (Corey Feldman) is finding it hard to deal with life as a teenager. He is failing school; his peers are tough as nails; finds himself falling in love with the highly unattainable Lainie (Meredith Salenger); and aside from best friend Dinger (Corey Haim) and a couple of other pals, social life is not a breeze. To top things off, Bobby’s parents are eccentric and emotionally negligent, refusing to even speak directly to him or offer any support. He feels lost but continues on, hoping that one day things will be different.

Every day on their way to and from school, Bobby and his friends cross through the yard of an older retired couple, Coleman and Gena Ettinger (Jason Robards and Piper Laurie), who remain wary of these “reckless” youth. Coleman enjoys meditating and wishes to enter a meditative alpha state with his wife so that they can have everlasting life together. Gena is not against her husband’s idea but is also not keen on doing his strange meditative practises in the middle of the night, something she confides to their friend Ike (Harry Dean Stanton). One evening after enjoying a night out of the town, Coleman and Gena start meditating in their front yard, under the moonlight. During this same time, both Bobby and Lainie are making their way towards the Ettinger’s home. The two youth collide at the same time as Coleman and Gena are deeply invested in their experiment. Suddenly, a large gush of wind blows and only the temporarily stunned bodies of Bobby and Lainie remain on the ground with no sight of Coleman and Gena.

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When “Bobby” awakens, he seems to have amnesia because he neither knows nor recognises anything around him. In fact, it is now Coleman who is occupying Bobby’s body and he is distressed because this sort of thing was never meant to happen. When Coleman runs to his house, he finds everything locked and cannot locate Gena anywhere. Exhausted, he returns to the Keller household just to get some sleep and in doing so, he meets the real Bobby in his dream, as well as Gena and Lainie who have also been affected by events. The big question now is how is Coleman going to successfully live Bobby’s life, which is already plagued by so many problems, and manage to be reunited with Gena in the real world?

“Gobble, Gobble!”

The premise of the film is largely based around a body swap experience between four people and a good part of the action takes place in a high school-related setting. The AFI catalogue categorises Dream a Little Dream as both a comedy-drama and a fantasy picture which I think is very accurate. It is by no means your typical teen comedy. Unlike most other body swap movies, there was no direct body switch between two characters like in the films Freaky Friday (all versions), Like Father, Like Son, Prelude to a Kiss, and Vice Versa, just to mention a few. Instead, only Coleman fully enters and takes over Bobby’s body while Bobby is displaced in a dream state. As for Gena and Lainie, the transfer was not complete because of Gena’s hesitation and lack of confidence in the experiment. Lainie suffers from memory loss and personality changes without being able to explain why odd things are happening to her; this lack of consciousness attributed due to Gena not being aware of her whereabouts. The best comparison that I can give to this partial exchange of souls is by looking at the film Being John Malkovich, in which people access Malkovich’s mind and body all the while co-existing with Malkovich himself.

(L) Gena and Coleman performing the meditation; (R) Lainie/Gena and Coleman as Bobby recreating the experiment.

By deciding to put a unique spin on the ideation of body swapping, writer/director Marc Rocco brought fresh innovation to the concept while unintentionally alienating those who found Dream a Little Dream to be overly complex and going in all directions. As a result, Dream a Little Dream was a box-office disappointment and a relative bomb compared to the performance of the Coreys’ two previous films which were released by well-known distribution companies with plenty of money for advertising. The film received a limited release in its first week and although it lingered for the good part of a year in cinemas, the total gross did not amount to a profit for Vestron Pictures. Yet, the fact that it stayed on for 43 weeks is proof enough that Dream a Little Dream had a small but steady audience. Critics, however, hated the film when it was released and still do not care for it today. It holds an elusive record on Rotten Tomatoes, obtaining 0% on the Tomatometer. At the same time, the Rotten Tomatoes Audience Score is much more complimentary, coming in at 67% favourability. So while Dream a Little Dream was critically slew, it remains a memorable film to many of us latter Generation X’ers.

My Thoughts

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The enchanting Lainie, tugging her lip like Gena.

It actually came as a surprise to me that Dream a Little Dream had been received in such a lacklustre fashion because I always held a very positive opinion of the film. As a youngster of that epoch, so many things about it were trendy and on point: the clothes, the music, the romance, the drama, the idea of teenage independence, and so on. Foremost, I was in admiration of Meredith Salenger’s natural beauty and her amazingly developed body which to a pre-teen girl was almost beyond conceivability. The character of Lainie represented the cool, unattainable girls in your class who you always wanted to be like. When Lainie and Gena merge into one, Lainie becomes even more attractive because she profits from Gena’s sensitivity as well as her unsuspecting, mature nature. Coleman’s characteristics also clearly shone through Bobby’s persona from the very awkward beginnings of the transfer to the point near the end when he was becoming more at ease with being considered a teenager again.

Above: Dumas’ gang confronting Bobby and his friends. The amount of graffiti in that bathroom is positively the most disturbing part of the picture.

Below: Joel gets drunk and steals his father’s gun, which he later uses on Dumas.

The film does a pretty decent job of highlighting different cliques that exist in high school environments and giving us a look at the sometimes extreme exchanges between the groups. Bobby and his friends are in constant conflict with head punk Dumas (Matt Adler) and his equally alternative goons who spend their evenings getting drunk and hanging out in dark alleys. Even when they are at school, they are raising hell by loitering in the hallways and even smoking and drinking inside the establishment. They take pleasure in chastising Bobby and his friend, particularly Joel (William McNamara) who is Lainie’s longtime boyfriend but who is also highly unstable. Dinger refers to him more than once as “Psycho Joel” and he has a lot of bad habits that will surface as the movie goes on. I suppose the only major, obvious complaint that can arise from all of this is that there is a huge lack of adult surveillance and presence in general. Whenever the kids are at high school, we never see any teachers or other personnel aside from Math instructor Mr. Pattison (Mickey Thomas) who also happens to conveniently administer the SAT examination. (Just a side note: Mickey Thomas was the lead singer of Jefferson Starship, a band of considerable 80’s greatness which later transformed into Starship.)

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Mr. Pattison ripping Bobby, er… Coleman, a new one. Was the bowtie and sweater vest/cardigan thingy really necessary?

(1) Bobby’s parents who are mostly dressed in their pajamas, played by Victoria Jackson and director Marc Rocco’s father, Alex. (2) The multi-talented Susan Blakely as Lainie’s horribly bitchy mother, Cherry. (3) Cherry’s creepy-looking boyfriend, Ron, who is giving Lainie a glass of wine spiked with a sleeping pill. A skin-crawling scene.

Any qualms that I have with Dream a Little Dream are relatively minor. As a matter of fact, only one of my gripes has to do with the story itself – the issue of Bobby doing well on SATs in order to get into college. It is established within the first few minutes of the film that Bobby is pretty much failing every subject in school which amuses Dinger since he is also in the same situation. Dream-state Bobby pressures Coleman into passing his SATs so that he will get off of the hook for being such an overall academic failure. Now, it’s been a few decades since I was in high school but from what I remember SAT scores were not wholly indicative of one’s scholastic performance and the result would not have an effect on one’s GPA. Universities may take into account a near perfect score but I highly doubt they would accept someone with a D- average and a 1550+ SAT score. Also, if Bobby is having a tough time keeping up with high school courses, he stands little chance of doing well in an establishment of higher education. While this is quicksand in the plot, it really is much better than the worst infraction of the film: Corey Feldman dressed and performing as Michael Jackson. It was cringeworthy in 1989 and it is just as bad today. I will admit to fast-forwarding this scene every single time I watch the film.

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There is so much to say about this ensemble. Are those reflectors on his shoulders?

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To conclude this article, I would like to share my personal appreciation about The Two Coreys. It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Corey Haim passed away; a death that shook me terribly and which I have always regretted. Most of us did not know the true extend of Haim’s drug addiction until it was too late to help him, much less to try and re-establish a career in entertainment. When Haim and Feldman appeared on The Two Coreys television reality show in 2017/2018, it was shocking to see Haim’s physical appearance. Once a beaming young man, he alternated between being swollen and overweight to being emaciated with missing teeth and hollowed out eyes. His fun-loving personality was still there but behind most of his intentions was the need to get high on drugs, something that ultimately killed his professional relationship with Feldman. As someone with first-hand knowledge of drug addiction, Feldman’s aid fell on deaf ears and Haim’s sobriety came far too late. Feldman has had nothing but kind words for Haim in the press and in his autobiography, Coreyography, despite things sometimes being devastatingly hard with Haim. I do not think that Feldman gets enough credit for being a great actor and a sincere, engaging human being. He is most often thought of for his eccentricities as a singer and in terms of his physical appearance. While I am the first to admit that I do not understand his constant homage to Michael Jackson, I respect his style and wish him the best. It hurts to see him always being bashed and made fun of in the media when he is just out there being himself. With all of the pressure he has faced in his life, it is encouraging to me that he has confidence and a strong inner will that allows him to keep his head up in the face of such public backlash.

As for Dream a Little Dream, I cannot recommend highly enough that you see the movie if you have not already and for those who are familiar with it to give it another watch. In the meantime, I am off to listen to some cheesy Starship jams. 🙂

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15 thoughts on “Talking Guilty Pleasures: ‘Dream a Little Dream’ (1989)

  1. A very entertaining and informative review, Erica!
    I haven’t seen dream a Little dream in a very, very long time. So, thank you for the reminder that I should see it again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John! 🙂
      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad that you would like to see it again and I hope that it brings back some good memories. From what I can see, it is currently available of Prime in North America! I don’t believe that a blu-ray version of the film has ever been released which is such a shame. The screenshots that I was able to take were so dark and grainy, which did not give the movie a lot of justice.

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  2. Hi Erica. Another great review. As a teenager of the 80’s, not surprisingly, I was not particularly enamoured with the Coreys. I *was* however, quite enamoured with Meredith Salenger in this film. 😀 Looking back at it, however, what really strikes me is the great supporting cast. Jason Robards, Piper Laurie, and Harry Dean Stanton? Wow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michael! 😀
      Thank you kindly for your nice words! Do you mean to tell me that the Coreys’ abundance of hair mousse and ripped jeans did nothing for you? LOL Meredith was such a dream girl — what all the boys wanted to have and what all girls aimed to be. She is a very smart lady at all, so she is certainly an all-around package for lucky Patton!
      Yes, the supporting cast is amazing and I think that their participation should give some bonus points to its critical appraisal. After all, these folks would not have signed-on had the project been awful on paper. The fact that the film was so ripped up by critics is a slap in the face to everyone involved, especially them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wait, why have I never heard of this film? It sounds utterly wacky and definitely something I’d be interested in seeing. I’m going to see if it’s available either online or at my local library. Regarding Corey Haim – a good friend who I used to work with for many years is Corey’s first cousin. Her mother and Corey’s mother are sisters. She always had lots of great stories about growing up with Haim and she took his death REALLY hard. They were extremely close growing up and because she was older than Haim by a few years, her and her boyfriend acted as Haim’s guardians when he was getting started in Hollywood. Haim’s funeral was held here in Toronto and I remember her coming to work a few days later feeling so upset at the number of gate-crashers and photographers that had been trying to get in. There were people trying to climb fences in order to take photos of the casket and mourners. Appalling, really, when you think about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Veebs! 😀
      Sorry I’m so late in responding but with my kids on school holiday, I don’t get much of a chance to jump up on my PC for more lengthy typing ventures.
      I really, really hope that you can see this film because it’s an overall good film. It was one of the first DVDs that I sought out as an adult because it brought back some fond memories. Getting a copy shouldn’t set you back too much if you can’t find it online or in your library as it is currently only in standard DVD form, though I do wish that it would get blu-ray treatment someday.
      Thank you so much for sharing the story about your friend. I can imagine how hard Corey’s death hit her since it send shockwaves through his longtime fans. She probably tried to help him get clean and back on his feet just like everyone else who loved him. It is sad that Hollywood turned their back on him as they did because he really tried to do well towards the end of his life. Many people immediately jumped the gun and said that his death was due to a drug overdose but Corey Feldman was the first to defend him, knowing that Corey had been clean for some time. Corey F. actually declined going to his funeral in Toronto out of respect for Corey H.’s family because he did not want the media to feed on his presence there. While a lot of people criticised his decision, he turned out to have made the right move. I hope that your friend is doing ok these days especially with the upcoming anniversary of his death.

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  4. It’s a shame this film is criticized – the main idea seems very good, as well as its development. I hope I can give it a chance someday.
    Thanks for the kind comment! Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Olá, Lê! 😀
      It is a shame because the story is really quite nice. One of the things that intrigues me about certain movies is that they keep me guessing and this is certainly one of them. Since all of the answers are not always spelled out, you can come to your own conclusions or even change your opinion over time. I hope that you do indeed get a chance to see it sometime soon! 🙂

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    1. Aw, thanks, Vinnie!! My affection for this film will never go away especially since it is so embedded in my own youth. I suppose in this way I can always feel young as well. 🙂 Your support is always much appreciated!

      Liked by 1 person

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