Dreams are hard. Most of us wake up. And what a sad thing that is. Dreamin’ Wild, written and directed by Bill Pohlad and based on the article “Fruitland” by Steven Kurutz, aims to explore that ache through the lens of a quite-improbable true story. But first, some context. In the late ’70s, Donnie and Joe Emerson were teenagers living on their parent’s farm in Fruitland, Washington when they made an album called Dreamin’ Wild. Joe played the drums, and Donnie did everything else. Sadly, the records went largely unsold and un-listened. Three decades later, an anthropology student named Jack Fleischer discovered the album, listened to it, and loved it. This spurred an underground positive response to the album among collectors and music lovers alike. Finally it got into the hands of Matt Sullivan, co-owner of Light in the Attic, a reissue label that specializes in giving under-heard gems a fresh, new platform from which to be discovered. Dreamin’ Wild soon became a priority. The track you most likely know is the soulful “Baby.”

And so we have the film adaptation of this too-crazy-to-be-true story. Casey Affleck plays Donnie, Walton Goggins plays Joe, and Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer, respectively, play them as teenagers. Zooey Deschanel puts in reliable work as Nancy, Donnie’s wife and music partner. The narrative splits time between the inception of the album and the aftermath of the rediscovery. What sticks more than anything is the melancholy. Pohlad’s determined to explore the beautiful oppression of creative ambition and what happens if, God forbid, those dreams actually come true.

Affleck is really special here, as are Jupe and Grazer. And Beau Bridges, Barbara Deering, and Chris Messina put in solid supporting work. Above all, it’s an acting showcase. But it’s Goggins who steals every scene he’s in. It’s hard to articulate how good the man is in this film and, really, in everything. Whether its over-the-top comedy performances in Danny McBride projects or lived-in, quiet turns in stuff like this, Goggins is nearly always perfect. There is a beautiful scene about halfway through this picture in which Kurutz (Rich Morris) finally asks Joe why he never married. As Joe begins to open up, he’s interrupted mid-sentence. It’s briefly heartbreaking and indicative of Joe’s whole life. That’s all thanks to Goggins.

There’s a generally smoky aesthetic that works about half the time, as well as a third act that feels a bit too manufactured. When all is said and done, Dreamin’ Wild is a kind film about kindness. While comforting in some respects, it lacks a certain amount of punch. Pohlad’s intentions are noble, and the talent of the Emerson brothers is clear enough. One can be happy it exists without fully embracing the film itself.

Dreamin’ Wild opens on August 4.

Grade: C+

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