A very low-budget effort that chronicles the difficulties faced by a struggling New York actress, LENA'S DREAMS offers some genuine and often profound truths about the creative process. It also serves as a fine showcase for its lead, versatile actress Marlene Forte.
At 25 Lena (Marlene Forte) claimed she would quit acting if she didn't make it by the time she was 30. Two years past the deadline the determined actress still hustles from audition to audition, and still has to wait tables to pay the rent. As a Cuban-American, she rarely gets to compete for
anything but the hot-blooded Latina temptresses, though she may be better suited for more cultured roles. On her 32nd birthday, Lena finally reaches her breaking point and, after she is given the wrong information about an audition, tells her opportunistic manager Jorge (David Zayas) that she's
fed up with his incompetence and the whole acting profession. She subsequently quits her restaurant job and breaks up with her longtime boyfriend Mike (Gary Perez), a struggling actor and director, who recently decided to give up his creative aspirations and join the nine-to-five world, opting for
a regular paycheck, health insurance, and a stable family life with Lena by his side.
Lena, confused and desperate, visits her old acting chum Suze (Susan Peirez), who gave up the craft years ago. Though ensconced in suburban comfort, the Long Island housewife details her own depressing life, including an impending divorce and a stalled career as a lawyer. The two women return to
Manhattan, where Mike, intent on winning Lena back, throws a birthday party for her. Lena's sour mood poisons the festivities. When Jorge arrives with the news that Lena has been offered a plum role in the musical "Castro" with Andy Garcia, she scoffs at having snared the plum role and kicks her
manager out. Everyone insists that Lena should take the part. Unable to cope, she retreats to the rooftop; Mike follows. Lena hurls numerous insults at Mike, then finally relents when he makes a final stand to save their relationship. After they make love, Lena decides to stick with acting and
take the role.
Cowritten and codirected by the husband-and-wife team of Heather Johnston and Gordon Eriksen, LENA'S DREAMS refuses to resort to treacly cliches about following one's dreams. Lena, in fact, continues to act because she can't help herself. The film is a study of addiction, as Lena searches for her
next fix, attending cattle calls, dealing with unctuous agents, and attempting to cope with the attendant rejection; her moments of creative exultation are all too fleeting. In Johnston and Eriksen's vision, even success isn't enough to raise one's spirits: at one point in her frantic day, Lena
meets an old teacher (Kai Adwoa), who's now a sitcom star. Instead of enjoying her success, the woman drinks heavily and bemoans the emptiness of the material. Even when Lena decides to take the "Castro" role, she does so knowing full well that it could die in previews and send her back to
Cinematographer Armando Basulto utilizes handheld cameras and 16mm stock to create a gritty visual style that perfectly reflects the film's world-view. Long takes are the rule; several scenes are presented without a single edit. This allows the actors to work through their characters' emotions and
create their own transitions. It's fun to watch Marlene Forte transform herself, during the space of one audition, from a profane, volatile Latin spitfire to a well-bred governess. Forte's own well-honed acting skills allow us to see that Lena is actually a talented performer, worthy of the many
roles for which she's been rejected.
Forte offers a tour-de-force turn in the painfully uncomfortable climactic rooftop scene. The raw nature and improvisational feel of the sequence bring to mind the stronger moments in a number of John Cassavetes' films (A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, OPENING NIGHT). Though LENA'S DREAMS doesn't
attain the sublime heights of vintage Cassavetes, it does tread in the same territory, and explores the same emotional conflicts with a similar degree of raw honesty. (Sexual situations, profanity.)
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- Released: 1997
- Rating: NR
- Review: A very low-budget effort that chronicles the difficulties faced by a struggling New York actress, LENA'S DREAMS offers some genuine and often profound truths about the creative process. It also serves as a fine showcase for its lead, versatile actress Marl… (more)