What Dreams May Come is one of the most joyless films I have ever seen. Some have apparently found it uplifting, and the god-awful title and, er, dreamy poster initially may lead you to believe that that’s the case, but I found it as uplifting as being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Not that more downbeat films are inherently bad—in fact, Paul Thomas Anderson’s fantastic There Will Be Blood had a startlingly dark ending, but it wasn’t there for the sake of cheap shock value, but because that was the most sensible way to end that film’s epic story.
Dreams, on the other hand, constantly shoves sad and horrible things in our faces for the sake of being “touching” and “powerful”, and the effect just gets deadening—and depressing—very, very quickly. Something like Cannibal Holocaust may “get a reaction” out of you with extreme gore and violence, but that doesn’t make it good.
We are first presented with Chris (Robin Williams) and Annie, a happy couple who get married, have kids, and peacefully live out their lives together. Then their kids die in a car accident. Then, only four years later, Chris dies after a car falls on him (no, that’s not meant to be funny), and he’s initially left to aimlessly wander around as a ghost and watch his wife grieve. Then, once Chris finally gets into heaven, Annie first slits her wrists, then fatally overdoes on pills, resulting in her being sent straight to hell. Feeling uplifted yet?
At one point, Dreams halfheartedly tries to lighten things up with some comic relief, but all of the attempts at it are so forced and artificial that they just don’t work. Then again, I was just too miserable by that point to laugh at anything, so it’s not like that would have even mattered anyway.
When Dreams isn’t dealing in cruel misery porn, it insists on shoving irritating amounts of schmaltz down our throats from every angle, topped with confusing slow-motion, unbearably corny one-liners (half of me expected somebody to step out and say “Is this heaven? No, wait, it’s Iowa.”), and the most horribly clichéd “emotional” music.
Admittedly, the film does have its saving graces, but they’re limited to a good performance from Williams and the admittedly creative visual effects. Even so, the $90 million budget must have run out by its second half, as it is filled with cloying, unnecessary “real life” flashback scenes that don’t serve any real purpose other than to fill up more screen time and try so very, very hard to jerk that extra tear out of your eye.
For all of its mean, mawkish manipulations, perhaps the worst thing about Dreams is the dangerously mixed messages it winds up sending. In the film’s logic, if you commit suicide, you will wind up in a significantly worse version of your house and lose all your memory, but your true love will waltz right in, somehow cure your amnesia, and whisk you right away to heaven, where you will both live happily ever after and never have to worry about your terrible little lives again.
I hate to sound like a preachy moral guardian here, but in an era where the YA-targeted show 13 Reasons Why has been directly linked to teen suicide rates suddenly rising, stuff like this can’t be ignored. It needs to be paid attention to, and it needs to be condemned as much as humanly possible.
Besides that, though, What Dreams May Come is a bleak, pretty unenjoyable misfire that occasionally looks cool, but is otherwise not worth watching on any level whatsoever. Unless, of course, you like feeling like crap for nearly two hours straight, and even then, there are much better films you could watch instead.