A cautionary tale about modern romance, DREAM LOVER is a stylish warning that all those anti-fairy tale cliches are true: beauty is only skin deep, you can't tell a book by its cover, every rose has its thorns, and anything that seems too good to be true probably is.
Lonely, divorced architect Ray Reardon (James Spader) is looking for his dream lover, and thinks he's found her in beautiful Lena Mathers (Madchen Amick), even though their first encounter, in a swank art gallery, is less than promising (he spills wine on her and she's hatefully oblivious to his
apologies). But when they run into each other again at the market, things begin to happen the way they should. Their first date, at a sushi restaurant, is an exercise in intoxicatingly trendy one-upmanship: Ray hopes to wow Lena by ordering in Japanese, only to find that she can speak it too. They
laugh at one another's jokes, agree about almost everything and, to top it all off, the sex is great: Lena is a high-class wet dream of sophisticated insatiability and inventiveness. In no time flat, Ray and Lena are happily married and have a beautiful home and a perfect child. They're the sort
of golden couple everybody loathes with envious intensity. Everyone except, perhaps, Ray's old friends Elaine (Bess Armstrong) and Norman (Larry Miller), who seem a bit taken aback by the perfection of it all.
Inevitably, nagging cracks appear in the facade of Ray's perfect life: snatches of overheard telephone conversations, tiny discrepancies in Lena's accounts of where she's been and what she's doing, minor inconsistencies in her rare remarks about the past. When Ray investigates them, the very
foundations of his world begin to crumble. He follows a trail of disturbing clues back to a depressed, backwater Texas town, and learns that the sophisticated Lena was once an hot, ambitious, trashy young thing named Sissy Sneeder, who did things to her pump-jockey boyfriend that he can't even
pronounce. And Lena's past isn't the half of it: Ray begins to suspect that she's having an affair, and when he tries to confront her, finds himself trapped in a waking nightmare of her astonishingly careful devising.
Lena wrecks their place and batters her own face, then tells the police Ray did it. He's arrested, howling his innocence, and finds that she's been telling her therapist that he beat her all along. She wants more than a divorce, and supported by laws designed to protect women from the wickedness
of men, sets out to take Ray for everything he has. Before he knows what's happened, Ray is in a mental institution, and Lena is about to walk away with everything: their child, their home, his money, his life. But she's forgotten one thing: by having him declared insane, she's liberated him from
responsibility under the law. He lures her to the asylum for one last visit, and strangles the bitch.
Directed by Nicholas Kazan, son of Elia Kazan and screenwriter of FRANCES (1982), Paul Schrader's PATTY HEARST (1988), and Barbet Schroeder's REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990), DREAM LOVER is a clever, surprisingly satisfying thriller with a disturbingly misogynistic undertone. It's a warped SUSPICION
without the wimp-out ending, a sharp exercise in romantic paranoia whose weakest element is a series of silly nightmare sequences in which love-sick Ray is tormented by a cheaply Fellini-esque clown. When DREAM LOVER sticks to the story of Ray's methodical devastation, it's slickly chilling and
well served by above-average performances from Spader--turning in another finely calibrated yuppie characterization--Amick (of "Twin Peaks" fame), and several supporting players, notably William Shockley as Lena's redneck boyfriend. Kazan is particularly good at balancing the incongruously sunny
surface of the Reardons' privileged lives and the growing sense of darkness seeping out from every unsealed corner of what is apparently a picture-book existence. (Nudity, sexual situations, violence, profanity.)
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