Within the past decade, a few English films have been set in the 1980s. All have been about young men coming-of-age. All have ranged from the quirky, to the comedic to the deeply dramatic, films like Richard Ayoade's Submarine, Shane Meadows' This Is England and Nicholas Hynter's The History Boys. While taking place in that decade, now almost 30 years ago, all of those movies look as if they were made today with a sheen and a polish that make those movies more modern than maybe the filmmakers wanted. As such, they don't achieve the reality that 24-year-old writer Lloyd Eyre-Morgan achieves here in his directorial debut.
Dream On was a stage play, which Eyre-Morgan directed, but this is his first feature film, and here he does make you feel as if we've actually time-traveled back almost 30 years. It might be comically so or over-the-top with the clothes, the hair, the Polaroid pictures, the head bands and the boom boxes stereotypically on someone's shoulder. Some might feel as if Eyre-Morgan is drowning us in 80s culture, but the story almost needs for him to submerse us.
Eyre-Morgan himself compares Dream On to Beautiful Thing (1996), another play adapted into a film about two boys coming of age and falling in love, one of which has daddy issues and the other has mommy issues.
Bradley Cross plays Paul, a teenage boy from northern England in 1988. He lives near Manchester, but he goes with his mum on holiday to a Wales campsite. He's supremely shy. In fact, he seems like he's constantly terrified. When he speaks, he always quivers and shakes like a leaf. He doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence. He basically does whatever his mum tells him.
Joe Gosling plays George, a fellow 16-year-old boy from London who wears a mullet and hangs out at the campsite by himself waiting for his dad. He lures Paul into his tent with the promise of Spider-Man comic books. He immediately tries to get Paul to steal money, but it's never framed in an overtly criminal way. George is of course very talkative, very brash, very bold and very confident.
The two eventually sleep together. Yes, there are tender moments where Eyre-Morgan frames Paul and George intimately, either in the tent or elsewhere. Paul is always staring at George, but it gets to a point where Paul's affection is clearly one sided. A bar scene even ends with Paul literally running after George.
George constantly is asking Paul for money. Paul's naïveté prevents him from realizing that there might be an imbalance of emotions here, that George might simply be using him or is simply too damaged to properly love him back. It's not a question of whether George is gay. It's whether there's reciprocity.
All the while, there is an inverse trajectory for both Paul and George. One character rises, while one falls. Abandonment and alcohol abuse are two issues that are battled, and the core becomes shaped into this story of a person pursuing a dream and his idea of perseverance, of saying what you want and not giving up when going after it.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated 15 for language and sexual references.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.
Dream On opens at the Hackney Picturehouse in London in June. It will be released on DVD, available at stores and Amazon UK on June 10.
Go to the film's Facebook page or TLA Video for more release dates or places where the movie will be made available.