November 1998
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Movie Review: What Dream May Come

by Jason Morrison

The first act of "What Dreams May Come" is almost enough to make you not care what may come of the rest of the movie. The new tear-jerker stars Robin Williams and promises journey through heaven and hell for the sake of love. Unfortunately, all it delivers for the first 20 minutes blurry-eyed, super-romantic pieces of his characterís life. But eventually, it does deliver--and bring up some interesting issues as well -- by accident, if not intentionally.

Attempting to stuff 20 years worth of Chris (Williams) and Annie (Annabella Sciorra) Nielsenís romance and family life into the first act is a definite no-no. Everything from Williamsí acting to the story to the direction to even the film editing seems rushed and cheesy. Chris and Annie meet on a lake near Switzerland--30 seconds. We meet their children, the children go off to school, get in a car crash and die--25 seconds. Though Iím exaggerating, Iím sure itís not by much.

We watch as Chris, on his way to pick up something for an exhibition Annieís working on, is hit by a car and dies. We experience what he does, floating above his body, going to his funeral, hanging around his wife, with dialogue between Chris and guardian angel "Doc" Albert (Cuba Gooding Jr.). The film fails to capitalize on the possibilities of showing how he feels, so disconnected from his life but so wanting to hold on, but then takes a turn for the better.

Chris accepts death and enters heaven, but not one of your standard white clouds and pearly gates variety. He is inside an impressionist painting, with flowers made of brush strokes and computer-generated painted landscapes. This is what theyíve shown us in the ads, and it really is well done. But all is not sunshine and lollipops for Chris, as he learns that Annie has committed suicide and thus cannot join her in heaven.

So Chris sets out with the aid of Albert and a "Tracker" (Max von Sydow) to journey through hell and find his lost Annie. And some of the imagery in hell is as good, if not better, than the impressionistic heaven.

Williams, who does most of the acting in this film, really doesnít show us his range in this one. Itís a pretty locked-down performance, though--think the tenderness he showed in "Mrs. Doubtfire" without all the drag.

The rest of the cast is good, but not great. Sciorra seems wonderfully depressed and suicidal, but is never given enough screen time to really develop. Gooding seems as confused and flighty as the film itself at first, but eventually buttons down to a good showing.

Along the way this film implies some really interesting ideas, though itís hard to decide whether or not it does so intentionally. The push of the movie is this constantly-reiterated notion that Chris and Annie are soul mates, meant to be together in a state of true love. But more than once I started to question this love, though the characters and the film seemingly did not.

As Chris and company land on the shore and approach the gates of hell, he begins to recall a time he spent with his son--a truly defining moment, when he tells his son that he respects him and would want him by his side even through the fires of hell. Though this leads to a very important revelation, it also draws a reprimand from the Tracker. Chris has not been thinking of Annie, he says, and is losing the bond they share. Does this imply that he can only love one at a time? In the least, this seems to say Chrisí love for his son takes away from the love he can share with his wife, and indeed, it seems when he first arrives in heaven he has nearly forgotten his children and only seeks his wife. If Chris and Annie have this incredible bond, what does that say for the rest of us?

Also, Annieís character is so underdeveloped in the flighty first part of the movie that we are utterly surprised by her coldness and behavior as she looses stability. In fact, so much of Chris and Annieís on-screen interaction consists of Chris attempting to just get through to her (whether from beyond the grave, at the asylum, or in hell) that it is hard to imagine this a perfect love. Though this serves to support the theme that Chris must be with her in order to help her, we never really see them connect. Add to that the fact that Annie does little more than giggle through the first part and little more than sulk and detach herself in the second, and I get more of an impression of a love not meant to be. I might be reading more into this film than I should, but these two remind me a lot of a people Iíve known whose relationships went really bad because of basic flaws in communication, not true love.

Unfortunately, "What Dreams May Come" does not explore either of the above or any of the other interesting symbols and discrepancies it brings up. Though it improves drastically as it progresses, it never takes advantage of the opportunities is has to add much deeper meaning. In the end, we have nothing more than a romantic fantasy with some interesting visuals.

[C-] [70]

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