There are a thousand movies just like Dreaming Hollywood, a film about the crushing reality of that very fact. Ray Balfi (Turk Matthews) is an ex-convict making his way in the world by selling drugs, with a side gig of writing scripts he hopes will make him millions of dollars. He has a, um, romance with a prostitute named Maureen (Madelyn Allen) and a troubled relationship with his parole officer, who happens to be one of his suppliers. It’s not a great life. Ray’s not terribly smart, either, but he believes in the viability of his script, The Dog’s Meow, more than just about anything. That’s why it really hurts when he sees it stolen and produced by a real Hollywood bigwig. It hurts his ego, it hurts his heart and, most of all, it hurts his mind. Beyond repair.
Writer-director Frank Martinez is pretty upfront about his influences, in particular the quirky crime comedies that basically defined a generation of independent filmmaking in the 1990s. He has characters talk about moving to Los Angeles with big dreams and a perfect script only to meet disappointment and disillusionment. OK. Maybe we’ve seen this movie a million times before. Even by the time Ray fully loses it, Dreaming Hollywood isn’t going anywhere new. That’s unfortunate because, within the two-hour running time, there are some great sequences and character bits that feel like they would benefit from a tighter story (like the films it actively venerates). Although the film acknowledges its creative reality, it doesn’t succeed at surpassing it as a story.
Then again, Martinez still got to make his script, and that counts for something on a metafictional level. It is, despite being overlong and not quite as funny as it wants to be, a generally well-shot film. The grime of Ray’s life and the filming locations work well for the story and never seem cheap or rushed. Trust me: That can’t be said for very many low-budget crime thrillers. It’s a testament to Martinez’s dedication that, at the very least, his independent crime film does feel like a crime thriller. That said, the best portions are when Ray speaks and interacts with visions of the odd cartoon characters from his script, who poke and prod at his existential impotence. There are some strange, crazy-making images that invoke the dumpster man in Mulholland Dr., one of the quintessential modern films about the futility of pursuing Hollywood dreams. Still, in many ways it feels like Dreaming Hollywood is the container for a punchier, maybe even odder version of Ray’s story.