Dream a Little Dream

For some reason, the 1980s had a rash of films in which the central theme was putting a teenager in an adult’s body, or an adult in a teenager’s body. 1989 had no less than five, from the obscure Vice Versa to the modern classic Big. Mike Rocco’s Dream a Little Dream tied the trend in with another 80s film trend, the two Coreys, Haim and Feldman. Having recently sat through 17 Again, I thought I would take a look at Dream a Little Dream and see if things were done better when this oddly-specific genre was in its heyday.

Corey Feldman plays the lead role, Bobby Keller. Corey Haim plays his best friend, “Dinger”; Haim broke his leg just shortly before shooting, and so Dinger had a few lines hastily added to incorporate the broken leg into the script. In the movie, Dinger’s leg was accidentally run over by his own mother and this pretty much sums up Dinger’s role in the film: he’s the unfortunate comic relief. Bobby has some more typical teen problems. He’s flunking all his classes (so is Dinger, but he doesn’t seem to mind), his parents (played by Alex Rocco and Victoria Jackson in fun small roles) don’t seem to understand him, and he has frequent run-ins with the school bully Dumas (Matt Adler). He’s also developing a serious crush on classmate Lainie (Meredith Salenger). That last is a problem because Lainie is the girlfriend of his other best friend, Joel (William McNamara).

It’s seldom a good idea to piss off the guy who bails you out of fights.

Of course, things quickly get more complicated for Bobby. The other main character of the film is Coleman Ettinger (Jason Robards), an elderly man (and implied to be a retired professor) who is interested in transcendental states and the nature of dreams and reality. One night when he has talked his wife Gena (Piper Laurie) into joining him in meditation, Bobby and Lainie collide with them while cutting through their lawn. Coleman wakes up to find himself in Bobby’s body, and soon learns that Gena is in Lainie’s — but is in her subconscious so that Lainie isn’t aware of her presence. Meanwhile, Bobby resides in Coleman’s subconscious, coming out only in dreams. The dream state is a good narrative trick here, as it not only allows for some exposition on just what’s going on, it also allows director Rocco to get the most out of his lead actors. Since Robards’s character is mostly inhabiting a 17-year-old for the length of the film, the dreams are the main place we get to see him act. Meanwhile, the dreams allow Corey Feldman to act as the genuine teenaged Bobby, while in the real world he gets to play the 70-year-old man’s personality, as well as playing the 70-year-old man trying to pretend to be a teenager. Feldman successfully shows off his acting ability here, with changes in delivery and tone depending on just which role he’s trying to be.

The other young actors fall into an interesting little paradox. Even in the 80s, these characters would have seemed just a little unreal; their fashions are all fairly extreme, and I’m not sure anybody has ever talked the way Dinger and Bobby do. But it all feels believable. They may not be a familiar group of teenagers, but they’re all credible teenagers, the more so with how they react to “Bobby’s” increasing strangeness. Coleman sucks at being a teenager, and Dinger, Lainie, and Joel all react naturally to how oddly he’s behaving. There are also some solid adult performances, with Harry Dean Stanton playing Coleman’s best friend and the only other person in on the switch, and Susan Blakely playing Lainie’s mother. Blakely’s character is, frankly, one seriously disturbed individual, and Blakely is very good at casually performing acts that have one yelling “what the hell?!” at the screen.

Had she been the focus of the film, this would be a much darker picture… and a spiritual successor to Mommie Dearest.

The story doesn’t really break any new ground, but it does manage to be entertaining throughout. It’s mostly the character interactions that are worth watching, though. And I have to say that the soundtrack to the film was a lot of fun to listen to; a lot of 80s hits, and the use of both Mel Torme’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and a rock version of the same by Mickey Thomas was handled very well, especially in the end credits where the versions are handled in a duet, with Feldman and Robards dancing.

Dream a Little Dream may be just a fun 80s film… but it is a fun 80s film. And that’s really all anybody can ask of it.

Rating: 4 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
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13 Responses to Dream a Little Dream

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Morgan you keep bringing up all sorts of childhood memories for me. I completely forgot about all of these film’s you have recently been posting. Keep it up man, it’s fun.

  2. osagejake says:

    I will warn you not to watch Dream a Little Dream 2. Unless you need one for your morbid curiosity files. That one is painful to watch.

  3. S says:

    Solid pick of a ‘fun 80s’ film; remember it; enjoyed it. this also falls into a teen flick of sorts. Feldman is great here as it’s his character’s responsibility to keep the film on track. The interplay by the whole cast is good too. Nice post.

  4. i ended up re-watching it again last night pretty randomly (part of a slew of vhs tapes i have that i’m trying to get rid of) it was ok-ish, i think i could’ve done without the guy with the gun at the end and Feldman’s dramatic monologue about how stupid the guy with the gun is being because none of the anger that the guy’s feeling matters in the long run. (of course it matters–that’s why he has a gun in the first place!) but ok the director wanted to give Feldman a big dramatic moment to play at the end and at least it vaguely tied into the idea of the central plot–that feldman is actually an older man hating having to re-do his youth and realizing that nothing you do in high school really matters all that much when you’re old and thinking back on your high school days. (I think that was the gist of what Feldman’s monologue was about right?)

    Also they never quite explain exactly how he was supposed to get back into his body. Even during the dream sequences where Feldman is teasing him with supposed clues about what he’s supposed to do to be able to get his old body back–it never quite makes any sense. I suppose that may be because Robards is almost completely obsessed with getting his wife’s sub-conscious back into the body of the teenager that she’s in, so that he can have her back even if its in teenage form….but still even if parts of the film were effective (the initial body-swap set to Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic being the best scene of the movie) none of it ever makes a whole lot of sense as a whole because i kept wondering where Robards’ body was the entire time. Did it just vanish into the either along with Feldman’s soul??? And why at the end was everybody completely mellow with one another—clearly Robards and Feldman remember what happened—shouldn’t something have come of that more then just ok feel free to cut across my house anytime you want young man!

    That aside–i thought it was interesting enough, altho i kinda wish it was a better movie overall. If you’re not a fan of the coreys or don’t have any nostalgia for late 80’s trends and styles this movie won’t make any sense at all!

    • It definitely has some narrative weaknesses, like you say. It’s common for light fantasy to gloss over details, but this doesn’t so much gloss over them as skip them entirely. I thought it was fun, but it’s certainly open to criticism.

  5. Charlene says:

    This is a movie I grew up watching.., googled and found this.. This brings back memories… Don’t make teen movies like that use to.. Corny movie but I love it!!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!!

    Oh and btw, Dream a Little Dream 2 was a big disappointment! 😦

    • Charlene says:

      Sorry for my typo!!

    • I’ve heard that. It’s not surprising, though; it would have been difficult to recapture the charm a second time around.

      And no, they sure don’t make teen movies like this any more. At least not very often. Seems like nowadays, a teen comedy is almost always a clone of American Pie.

  6. Mario A. says:

    So nice to read a positive review of this underrated gem.
    Thank you.

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