Photo: River Road Entertainment
In the past few years, the Venice International Film Festival has become more than a launching pad for the major releases of awards season. In the process, it also became a launching pad for the main awards season Offers. The movies themselves are one thing. (Amid the ongoing arms race to standing ovations, it’s still hard to say which films will actually resonate with audiences and award bodies and go the distance, especially with Toronto, New York, and the holiday movie season still looming.) But the most prestigious shows – the ones you can see from a mile away. The glitzy, fan-filled red-carpet environment of a film festival in September often seems like the perfect show for them even when the films themselves aren’t glamorous at all.
The gun is filled with plenty of big, bold, and exhilarating turns that scream, “Look at me!” Cate Blanchett he is The greatest conductor of our time Tas. Ana de Armas he is Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. Hugh Jackman he is sad dad in Son. Timothée Chalamet he is Cannibal country in bones and everything. Brendan Fraser he is 600 pounds in Whale. and so on. These actors nod, scream, cry, die (sometimes), and they do we crying. For the most part, they earned their perks. But it can be refreshing sometimes, in the midst of all these verbal dramatists, to see someone bleed so softly on our heart strings by simply being there and, apparently, not doing much at all. This is where Walton Goggins comes in.
Goggins is here this year with a movie called Dreamin’ WildWritten and directed by Bill Pohlad – director of the 2014 Brian Wilson biopic love and mercy. Here, Pohlad finds another true music industry story about family and the slippery nature of success. This time, the story of Donnie and Joe Emerson, two brothers from Fritland, Washington, who as teenagers in 1979 released a sweet little album called Dreamin’ Wild. The album was independently recorded in a studio built by their father for the children on the family farm, he did not do any work and disappeared. But in 2008, a Spokane record collector rediscovered the album, and it began to spread in the right independent circles. Dreamin’ Wild Re-released and rated 8/10 on Pitchfork, the Emerson brothers suddenly found the acclaim and fame they yearned for as children. But their lives have changed, and the psychological and financial damage to their frustrated dreams has already taken place. (The movie is based on 2016 article by Stephen Kurutz.)
The movie… well, it’s not exactly great. The story is certainly intriguing, but Pohlad’s script is so straightforward and obvious – so much so that it often takes you out of the movie. Casey Affleck, as Donnie, the singer-songwriter who leads a lot of the brothers’ music, is talented enough to make the lively dialogue work — sometimes. can do capital-a behave in this. But it’s Goggins who pulls you in with his quiet performance as Joe, the other brother. While Donnie continued to perform at local bar parties with his wife (Zooey Deschanel), Joe, who played drums on the original album, was mostly stagnant all these years. He lives on the family farm and has slowly built a beautiful home with his own hands. We were told he loved someone once, for a while, but she died. However, he is not a sad sitter. He seems to be just a normal person living his life.
Goggins has played all kinds of characters in his career, including heavy ones, and he’s capable of delivering wild turns and scene-stealing as well as the kind of shows that shrink into the background. He has always struck me as a cute face, and a very human face. You see Goggins, and you are instantly reminded of real people you know, not just because of his looks but because of the lively nature of his performance. As Joe, he’s alert but awkward, and seems like he’s about to say something but might have thought better of it. He seems content, at times, to stand back and watch.
When the Emersons start getting ready to perform again, Joe struggles with drums – we realize he hasn’t been playing much music in the intervening years, although initially he’s more excited about their album re-release. Joe is happy to be along the way. This is because, as we eventually realize, he is happy for his brother and family. He realizes that Donnie is a talented one with ambition and drive; Joe, on the other hand, exists out of love. It’s negative but not in the poor way negative movies often display. That’s because that’s how many of us are in the real world. And Goggins portrays it with such a gentle and calm understatement that, after all, all you do is watch it.
I think the movie knows this. Dreamin’ WildAnd, as you point out, it has its problems: There are lines of dialogue so frank that I actually found myself laughing during some very serious scenes. But great performances don’t happen in a vacuum, and Pohlad should be credited with figuring out exactly what to do with Goggins. There’s a very good chance that, amid all the great, award-winning performances in this year’s stacked Venice lineup, this will be among the handful that will really stay with me.