“Dreamland” takes many cues from the 1967 classic “The Graduate” — the awkward humor, the fancy hotels of the rich, the aimless main character, the forbidden love affair. It might take a few too many.
Directed by Robert Schwartzman, a musician and the brother of actor Jason Schwartzman, “Dreamland,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this week, tells the story of Monty Fagan (Johnny Simmons), a pianist who aspires to own his own piano bar. When the film begins, a broke Monty is stuck giving piano lessons to children and living with his girlfriend (Frankie Shaw) and her overbearing mother (Beverly D’Angelo).
His life changes when he scores a temporary gig at a bar in a fancy Los Angeles hotel and is soon seduced by one of the regulars, Olivia Adams (Amy Landecker), who throws money at Monty in exchange for sex.
Much like the young Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) in “The Graduate,” Monty develops feelings for the older, married Olivia, hatching fantasies of running away with her to avoid facing his problems. Much like Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in “The Graduate,” Olivia, an alcoholic, is only in it for the thrill. When the passion finally fades, Monty must face the fact that the sultry distraction has not exactly helped him sort out his life.
The structure is all “The Graduate,” but the style is Schwartzman’s own. The first-time director washes the story in a dreamlike haziness with moody lighting and a melancholy score that accents Monty’s adrift state. However, the piano jazz soundtrack, classy settings (in the hotel bar and Olivia’s million-dollar home) and suit-heavy wardrobes make “Dreamland” feel a bit stuffy.
Considering the similarities to “The Graduate,” the result feels less like an inspired update and more like a modern-day replica. What sets “Dreamland” apart from “The Graduate” is that Monty is not the privileged, wealthy Ben Braddock, but a broke dreamer. However, the movie all too often works to make the audience forget that fact.