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Dreamin’ Wild (2022)

Broken dreams and promises find some sort of redemption when a charming time capsule of an album, recorded by music-loving teens in the 70s, is unearthed.
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Genre(s): Drama, Music

Director: Bill Pohlad

Actors: Casey Affleck, Noah Jupe, Walton Goggins, Zooey Deschanel, Chris Messina, Beau Bridges, Jack Dylan Grazer

Year: 2022

MPAA Rating: PG

Country: USA

Casey Affleck is so good at portraying a sort of world weariness, the type that looks like it will make you buckle and fall to your knees on a bad day. As Donnie Emerson, he’s a guy that has made a career as a musician with his wife Nancy (Zooey Deschanel). Not a glamorous life of rock stars, mind you, but they run a struggling recording studio in Spokane and play in a band for hire, while he writes his own music.

When Donnie’s brother Joe (Walton Goggins) calls to say that a guy wants to talk the the two of them about their record, he’s baffled. Turns out some online folks have started a buzz about an old LP that a guy discovered in an antique store: Dreamin’ Wild, a self-recorded album that Donnie and Joe Emerson recorded as teens in a cabin on the family farm in rural Washington state in the 70s. Now, over 30 years later, a guy from Light in the Attic records (Chris Messina) wants to chat with them about properly releasing the album that is building buzz on the internet.

Based on a true story, Dreamin’ Wild portrays Donnie and Joe as music-loving teens (played by Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer respectively) and as adults in very different emotional places in their lives. Donnie can’t help but be bitter, remembering how, when he was a teen, a producer in LA lured him with promises went nowhere, crushing his dreams of stardom. Meanwhile Joe, who was in it more for fun than for passion, seems settled in his life in the country, building things and working the family business.

Donnie also harbors some deep guilt about the whole experience, as his parents, especially his father, were 100% behind the boys’ dreams. Their dad, sweetly played by Beau Bridges, funded their pursuits and ultimately lost the majority of the family farm in the process. It’s a brutal truth to live with, but despite the family’s love and support, it’s a truth that Donnie struggles with.

The trailer for Dreamin’ Wild got me all in the feels, and the film itself is gentle and melancholy. But what sets it apart (and makes you see why the Emersons’ story was irresistible) is the music. The soulful song “Baby” is gorgeous and timeless, a tune somehow written by a self-taught teen whose only exposure to music was the radio in the cab of the family tractor. The tunes, pop and soul influenced, are in contrast to the cheesy album cover, where the boys wore white jumpsuits that look like Elvis birthed the Bay City Rollers.

Dreamin’ Wild, the movie, serves as a natural introduction to Dreamin’ Wild, the album. The sweetness and failure of the backstory makes the album’s bittersweet late discovery all the more rich. This may not be a cinematic story of natural talent leading to superstardom and acclaim, but it is more of a grounded reality check for the rest of us who ever had a dream or special talent. Sometimes just acknowledgement and support of those around you is all the redemption you need.

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