Dreaming of Marilyn
Having reached the age of 12 young Henry Starbuck (Jeremy Sumpter) is taken to the local bar where he is to spend his summer working for the owner Cindy Wilder (Amy Madigan - Field of Dreams). Cindy being a tough cookie gives Henry some lessons in life as do the various people he meets from Cecil Running Bear (Rodney A. Grant - Dances with Wolves) who serves behind the bar to J.M. (Carl Lumbly) the local mechanic. As the summer passes Henry does a lot of growing up when he discovers things about his family as well as the fun of when a film crew arrives in town to shoot a movie starring Marilyn Monroe.
The simplest way to describe "Just a Dream" is to say it is a coming of age movie one which focuses on a summer in a young boy's life when he starts to grow up and get an understanding for the real world. We watch as he makes friendships with some older folks who happily spend time with the young boy and offer him a whole variety of advice. And of course there are little adventures from going to see his first movie to being taught how to drive by the kindly J.M. Plus there needs to be some drama from Henry learning the truth about his father and his mother to something which happens in the bar which shakes his world.
But we also have the story involving a film crew coming to town with Marilyn Monroe who J.M. idolizes. Now I kept that bit separate because many of the plot outline's I have read make a big deal of it and to be honest it is not a huge part. To put it simply all that "Just a Dream" is is a series of events in the summer of Henry Starbuck, a varied bunch of events all with little lessons. And that is part of what makes this movie work, the writing is full of lessons which makes up for a lack of narrative arc although it does at times feels like it is meandering.
What also makes it work are the wonderful performances with Jeremy Sumpter doing a fantastic job as playing the young, naive Henry whose innocent outlook on life is so refreshing. But Sumpter is matched by equally good performances from the likes of Rodney A. Grant, Amy Madigan and especially Carl Lumbly who creates such a warm character in J.M. Hoagland, a real surrogate father figure.
What this all boils down to is that what "Just a Dream" lacks in narrative it makes up for in charm as it is a gentle, beautiful coming of age movie full of wisdom and humour.