Review: City of Dreamers (2011)

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Cast: Ellen Cosgrove, Eddie Brimson, Ross Scarfield
Director: Jamie Patterson
Country: UK
Genre: Drama | Comedy
Official Trailer: Here


The fourth feature film written and directed by Jamie Patterson to see release in 2011, City of Dreamers is also the first of these to receive international festival recognition, thus far scheduled to screen in Milan, Rhode Island, Washington D.C., Las Vegas, and Madrid, where it has also been nominated for best film. It’s an early feather in the cap for the still-fledgling Jump Start Productions, a Brighton-based troupe of young filmmakers out to share their cinematic passion with a wider audience. City of Dreamers, the company’s fourth production, concerns aspiring musician Rose, who moves to the city on the run from some unsaid past in pursuit of her dreams. Disparaged at her inability to find employment, expression, even a sense of self-fulfilment, she befriends Harry, a young bartender far more confident in her talents than she herself.

These are themes easily understood by all, addressing ideas of finding one’s place in the world and coping, in some respect, with the difficulties of life.

Patterson’s script strikes an efficient balance between comedic irreverence and dramatic depth, rich in a fresh wit yet unafraid of setting it aside for scenes at a time to work on establishing tragic aspects to its characters. Much of the more humourous side of City of Dreamers is entrusted to George Webster as Kyle, Rose’s intellectually lacking housemate who seems the sole resident of his own plane of existence. He enters the film as a caricature—his boyish antics would not be out of place in the likes of The Inbetweeners—but is gradually and calculatedly fleshed out in a brief but charming subplot. His is an arc emblematic of most of the characters: they have a tendency to be introduced in ways altogether too neat, but their portrayals make them so enjoyably affable that this is soon forgotten. As a homeless man whom Rose encounters at various points, Eddy Brimson exemplifies this best of all. Though victim of an uneasy introduction which mildly alienates the viewer, this is a character who strikes a level of profundity through the sheer humanity of his own narrative and the scene-stealing captivation of Brimson’s performance, adept equally in affecting drama and sharp wit. There’s a certain whimsy to some of the comedy that may see it only fully appreciated by those of a niche sense of humour, but there’s more than enough in the charm the story presents to make it a jovial experience nonetheless for those thereby left out. These are themes easily understood by all, addressing ideas of finding one’s place in the world and coping, in some respect, with the difficulties of life. Central to this is the actual setting of the film, presented lovingly as a thriving hub of cultural vibrancy. The sense of place is immensely clear, Brighton finding portrayal as a city steeped in a rich musical heritage. It makes all the clearer the story of these characters, setting them in a well-realised world

Where City of Dreamers really excels is in the exploration of its themes through its music. The soundtrack is loaded with songs that portray the characters’ growth, the score an impressive affair of sonorous tone and atmosphere. Though at times professional sounding studio mixes of the music may clash with the actors synching to it, we get a sense of these personalities through the things they play and the reactions therein provoked in themselves and each other. That so crucial a part of the narrative is pulled off so well is the film’s great strength; allowing the characters to be built through the music affords Patterson the opportunity to both experiment with creative direction in these scenes and spare more room in the dialogue for the wit that lends the film its comic realism. There’s an inherent likeability to these characters created primarily through just how recognisable they are as people from our own lives, be it the perpetually unclothed housemate or the selfless friend masking their own problems to help us through ours. The performances are key to this relatability, each of the actors seeming to embody their character so well precisely because they are themselves like this in their own lives—with the exception, one hopes, of Brimson.

There’s an inherent likeability to these characters created primarily through just how recognisable they are as people from our own lives, be it the perpetually unclothed housemate or the selfless friend masking their own problems to help us through ours.

City of Dreamers may be noticeably amateur in some technical aspects, and Patterson’s storytelling is not without flaw, but the cast he surrounds himself with and the balanced tone he achieves carry this story to easy enjoyment and a charming sense of reality. An astute sense of place and well-formed characters explore the ideas of identity and self-fulfilment proficiently, making this a thoroughly appreciable experience throughout. In Brimson lies a striking talent that lends the film a powerful dramatic heft, elevating it in its better scenes to a level of heartfelt humanity that complements the personable humour, but everyone here delivers strong work. It’s nice to see passionate belief in a project come alive onscreen; here’s hoping it’s not the last we see of Jump Start Productions.

[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. City of Dreamers may be noticeably amateur in some technical aspects, and Patterson’s storytelling is not without flaw, but the cast he surrounds himself with and the balanced tone he achieves carry this story to easy enjoyment and a charming sense of reality.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.