We all flirt but there are often lines that seem to change with each relationship as to what constitutes cheating. Is going out for coffee with an opposite gender friend cheating? How about dinner with an ex? What about those e-mail correspondences that are getting more flirtatious? Do you find it’s easier to chat with an attractive coworker than your mate in the morning? While these questions can lead to more revelations about yourself and your relationship since they all include boundaries that may be easily crossed, how does it fit into the mix if you dream cheat? That is, if in your dreams you have an affair with a perfect stranger that actually feels more like love while embarking on a fantasy relationship you look more forward to than the perfunctory “good night” and “I love you” said to your partner.
For Gary (Martin Freeman), this is the situation he finds himself in fairly quickly into writer/director Jake Paltrow’s feature film debut. In a beginning that feels ike a British version of VH1 Behind the Music, we learn a bit of the background of former Britpop musician Gary who, now in his thirties, resides in New York with his nagging, frumpy, dark-haired girlfriend of seven years Dora (played by Jake’s sister Gwyenth Paltrow). When we first meet him, Gary is busily eking out an unsatisfying career scoring commercial jingles for an advertising agency with his former band-mate turned boss Paul (Simon Pegg). Although he’s approaching an early midlife crisis, unlike his womanizing, lecherous married friend Paul who is currently having an affair with a woman he describes (as only Pegg can) as “sort of tall and hot, in a kind of short, ugly way,” Gary saves his fantasies for himself and finds them indulged in a bizarre way one evening when he dreams of a gorgeous, beguiling stranger (Penelope Cruz) who, speaking to him only in subtitles, tells him that if he pays close attention and shuts his eyes he “can feel a heartbeat” in her lips.
Intoxicated by this imagined encounter, Gary’s ego is given a boost as he decides to explore the field of dream interpretation and lucid dreaming, visiting a new age bookstore before he meets up with a dream coach in the form of a group run by Mel (Danny De Vito). Gary, who decides to avoid the small clique of fellow dreamers all hoping to control their dreams as if they were listening to their favorite song without an ending before the Kendo practice interrupts them, hires Mel for private consultation. Soon their sessions enable him to continue his affair with Cruz that soon takes over his own waking life as he begins darkening and soundproofing his bedroom for better dreaming conditions before Dora is only too happy to have an excuse to leave for an Italian two week business trip. Quickly startled into thinking that fate is the reason for his dreams when he sees Cruz’s likeness adorning fashion ads on city buses, Paul takes it upon himself to arrange an introduction but will the reality be as good as his dream or was Gary just trying to find a way to avoid his own relationship that may be way past the expiration date?
A fascinating premise that would have done better to be played more for laughs than the downbeat drama as penned by Paltrow that concludes into a dark cheat of an ending that feels a bit rushed and disappointing, the film also suffers from as Hollywood Reporter writer Kirk Honeycut noted, Paltrow’s decision to make “ever character thoroughly unlikable” or as he corrects, “actually pathetic would be a better adjective.” With such a brooding tone to the film with self-involved and cringe-worthy characters that may have been more successful on the page, there is little to recommend the work despite the originality of Paltrow’s idea and his unquestionable gift for direction as the film offers plenty of gorgeous scenes that, on their own, show his promise but compounded with the rest result in an uneven mess. This being said, it's nonetheless suitable for the same audiences who found themselves entranced by the similarly themed fellow Penelope Cruz vehicle, Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky (based on the superior Abre los Ojos also starring Cruz).