‘Dreamin’ Wild’ Review: What Happens to a Teenage Dream Deferred?

A new film dramatizes the true story of two brothers thrust into the spotlight 30 years after the album they recorded as teenagers is discovered.

By Claire Shaffer

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The story of Donnie and Joe Emerson is the kind of miracle that starry-eyed musicians dream of: In the late 1970s, the teenage brothers record an album on their father’s Washington farm. It goes nowhere, until a collector stumbles across the LP in a Spokane antiques shop some 30-odd years later. Soon, word gets around about the brilliance of their passion project and, with the help of a vinyl reissue and a New York Times profile, the Emersons are suddenly thrown into the spotlight they were chasing all those years ago.

Bill Pohlad’s “Dreamin’ Wild,” in theaters on Friday, is named after Donnie and Joe’s album and dramatizes its rediscovery by the general public and its impact on the greater Emerson family. “Dreamin’ Wild” doesn’t shrink from the fact that Donnie (portrayed as an adult by Casey Affleck, who’s also a co-producer of the film) was the album’s true brainchild — the chief songwriter, singer, instrumentalist and producer, complemented by Joe’s inexperienced drumming. That much was clear after the initial album release, when Donnie was offered a solo record deal. But he struggled to make it in Hollywood, draining his family’s finances in the process. Renewed interest in the LP reignites his guilt, even as his desire for recognition fuels an unhealthy perfectionism that extends to those around him, particularly Joe.

Affleck’s performance is the emotional crux of the film, but the supporting cast, including Zooey Deschanel (as Donnie’s wife, Nancy) and Beau Bridges (as the brothers’ self-sacrificing father, Don Sr.), rounds out Pohlad’s pensive vision of familial drama. It’s Walton Goggins, however, who shines, delivering a quiet, melancholic portrayal of the ever-supportive Joe, who stayed behind in Fruitland, Wash. Adding to the mood is the soundtrack, which features not only Donnie’s otherworldly, genre-fluid “Dreamin’ Wild” compositions, but also a selection of deep cuts from folk-rock greats like The Band and Linda Ronstadt.

While it can occasionally seem as though Pohlad is eking out conflict to support a narrative, the film’s restraint ultimately works in its favor, offering a thoughtful meditation on music, creativity and what it really means for talent to be “overlooked.”

Dreamin’ Wild
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theaters.

Dreamin’ Wild

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