I'd come across quite a few as a precocious (see: sneaky) only child, but none loomed larger than 1989's Dream A Little Dream. The film lives up to its name in myriad ways, from its snapshot-Thirtysomething-esque editing in its introduction to a cast that pairs the likes of Jason Robards, Piper Laurie and Harry Dean Stanton with Le Deux Coreys (the powerhouses of Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, of course). In a decade rife with experimental and boundary-pushing films, Dream managed to carve a niche within a niche for itself at the tail-end of a decade that was both stuffed full of groundbreaking work and filled to the point of near-obscenity with baby boomer nostalgia.
As a very young child in the '90s, armed with a previously viewed VHS from the Smith's grocery store chain of this movie, I was ill-prepared to grapple with its themes of generation gaps, new and old love, aging and Corey Feldman's hairstyles. (It's not exactly a mullet or a rat tail, but it's a style that definitely incorporates both.) Still, I loved the movie, and I dearly wanted to be Meredith Salenger in it, so I watched it on a weekly basis. Revisiting it in 2018 brought a lot of things to light, except that I still don't understand Feldman's look, and I still do want to be Meredith Salenger.
These aren't your grandpappy's "get off my lawn" older folk battling them, though. Coleman meditates and studies psychic transference, and he's eager to get his wife in on the deal. Their relationship is one of the film's strengths: Coleman and Gina are absolutely in love, and their chemistry is adorable. As much as Piper Laurie's character doesn't buy into any of it, she's supportive, which is the most those of us with strange hobbies can ever ask for of our significant others.
Big. If two people weren't swapping bodies to learn some kind of lesson, then you better believe their soul was getting transferred into a different kind of body because, dammit, some lessons can only be learned by situations where you have to desperately explain to someone that you aren't REALLY you, you're actually this other person, and by the way, Harry Dean Stanton takes that conversational burden here and handles it like a champ.
So after a bicycle accident that you kind of have to just let yourself buy, Coleman is now fully Feldman, and Gina, because of her skepticism I suppose, has about 20% of herself in Salenger. There are sweet and strange moments, and, of course, we get a montage scene of Coleman trying on and criticizing Bobby's wardrobe ("At least he has a nice body!") but the highlights for me are three-fold. One, Feldman uses this as an excuse to start dressing and acting like Michael Jackson, as he's wont to do, and two, Robards and Feldman occasionally meet and taunt each other in a blue-tinged dream world.
"What, you expected Freddy Krueger?"
"Who's Freddy Krueger?"
"Ah, he's before your time."
Lastly, Bobby's parents are played by a bewildered Victoria Jackson and Alex Rocco, and God bless whoever made that casting choice. Once Bobby is Coleman, he articulates why they both need to be more engaged parents to the stressed-out teenager, and every scene it happens in is just beautiful.
Roger Ebert hated Dream A Little Dream, giving it one star while complaining about a misleading ad campaign and citing the heavy load of body swap pictures he'd had to sit through the past handful of years. I like going back and seeing how trends affected film critics, and I can't help but wonder what they'd think of some of them if they ever bothered to revisit them.
Dream A Little Dream isn't a typical teen or body swap movie, and despite its conventions, it manages to be the best kind of "dated." This film is a sliver of a strange time period that was itself obsessed with time. Kids who watched movies on tiny black and white televisions and at the drive-in were now filmmakers who were seeing their work appear on video and TV after a year or so after release, and I can't help but imagine that was one of the many issues that put aging in the forefront of a vast amount of plots back then, whether people stayed in their own bodies or not. Technology now moves almost instantaneously, but the 1980s were when advancements really started picking up, so age differences came into even sharper relief, and Hollywood was there to make zany movies about it.