Gary (Freeman) is a washed-up Brit-popper-turned-ad-jingle-writer who starts fantasising about a model (Cruz) despite his marriage to Dora (Paltrow). But can the girl of (and in) his dreams rescue him from his mid-life crisis?
Better known as the one with Gwyneth Paltrow’s brother directing, this uneven dramedy’s high point comes from some unlikely chemistry between Martin Freeman and Penélope Cruz.
Freeman plays Gary, a former Brit-pop guitarist who’s reduced to writing ad jingles in New York for his former bandmate, now boss, Paul (Simon Pegg). Gripped by a mid-life crisis, Gary hides in his dreams where a woman called Anna (Penélope Cruz) seems to fall in love with him. Soon he’s soundproofing over his windows and taking lucid dreaming classes from guru Mel (a show-stealing turn from Danny DeVito), but controlling his sleep won’t help him make sense of his life.
The plot and tone owes a lot to Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman, but with a mainstream touch that makes it cringily unconvincing, a bit like dad appropriating his son’s slang. The talky scenes between Gary, Paul and their girlfriends have the awkward touch of Woody Allen thirty years too late, without the charm or flair that the originals would have brought.
Even Freeman and Pegg seem uneasy and low-key. The only proof we get that Gary was ever famous comes from musical flashbacks when he gazes at pictures of him and Dora in happier times. Meta-interviews with Jarvis Cocker and Gary’s jilted ex-girlfriend contrive to mark him as an underrated Brit-pop god, when in fact he comes across as an unlikeable jackass whose ego is bigger than his talent.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s reward for letting her brother saddle his wagon to her star is minimal. She is intensely annoying throughout as a bitter art historian with thwarted ambition and Alanis Morissette’s hair, but any sympathy found for the crisis-ridden Gary is destroyed as he becomes just as vile as his screechy other-half.
In one of the film’s strongest scenes Gary meets Anna’s real-life counterpart, a ballsy, leather-clad model who Gary manages to track down from a perfume ad on the side of a bus. The exact opposite of the pliant dreamgirl, she punctures Gary’s creepy bubble of ownership with violent disdain. It’s at times like this that Jake Paltrow comes into his own, both as a director and writer, but the rest is so much unpleasant puff that by the end you wish you could drift off as easily as Gary.
Despite some wry humour, the miscast leads and sour tone are as out of place in this Woody Allen landscape as Gwyneths silly wig.