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September 27, 2020


written by: Hugh Schulze
produced by: Brian Hieggelke and Jan Hieggelke
directed by: Hugh Schulze
rated: not rated
runtime: 99 min.
U.S. release date: September 25, 2020 (virtual cinema, Showplace Icon Theatres & Music Box Theatre)


Dreams can be so real, they feel cinematic at times. I’ve had dreams where the lighting and production design was simply stunning and I wound up mad that I woke up, wishing to get lost in that nocturnal movie I was the star of. Sometimes the people that show up in our dreams as supporting players are our friends and family members and sometimes they’re people we’ve met only in passing, maybe on the bus or train. All this came to mind while watching writer/director Hugh Schulze’s “Dreaming Grand Avenue”, a dramedy with a fantasy sheen and a social conscience. That description may seem odd and a bit lofty, and while Schulze’s screenplay doesn’t necessarily spin all his plates in a wholly satisfying manner, he also doesn’t break any plates in the process.

The modern-day tale set in Chicago opens on a twentysomething pair, Jimmy (Jackson Rathbone) and Maggie (Andrea Londo) as they sit across from each other on an empty CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) train car. He’s drawing a birded-headed human riding a bicycle in a sketchbook, while she reads Songs of the Soul by Emily Dickinson. They notice each other and as the camera pans out while remaining in the car something seems a bit off. First, this must be the cleanest CTA interior ever (and I’ve ridden my share) and second, as the two stand up as if to get off at their stops, the doors open to views that seem strange and out-of-place. There’s no doubt this opening scene is emphasizing at least one word from the film’s title (the train does pass the Grand Avenue stop while its underground) – it definitely feels dreamlike and oddly personal. They may be strangers sharing a dreamscape, but they both witness something unique to their own experiences in real life – Maggie sees an image of a casket at a funeral parlor with the name “Sarah” on it and Jimmy sees his half-brother standing in front of a coffin. We don’t know the details initially (we’ll know that’s Jimmy’s half-brother later on), but it’s clear that both of them have been impacted by loss.



Jimmy and Maggie will meet up again in their dreams and in real life, which is an interesting concept in and of itself. If only Schulze would’ve kept his focus on the many possibilities of the balance and tension between the dream world and the one we’re used to, “Dreaming Grand Avenue” could’ve been more than the overly ambitious narrative that weighs it down like a pair of cement shoes in the Chicago river.

After that intriguing opening, we learn that Jimmy is a an artist in desperate need of work, or to be specific: a job, any job. He shares an apartment with a girlfriend (Bryce Gangel) who seems like a mismatch for a guy who’d prefer sinking into a bubble bath over interviewing for a position in the corporate world. It’d be interesting to learn how they met, let alone how long they’ve stayed together. Maggie has a heart for children and works at a daycare learning center. It becomes clear she is plagued by nightmares of slain Chicago children, tragic victims of the city’s rampant gun-related killings. She keeps a list of them on her apartment wall and lights candles as a vigil in their honor. To help with these nightmares, Maggie seeks treatment at a sleep clinic, where they are studied by Dr. Wandervogel (Tiffany Bedwell), although it seems such research isn’t going to help Maggie find peace.

We meet two other characters who will tie into the dreams of Jimmy and Maggie and the overall story in interesting albeit somewhat confusing ways. There’s Andromeda (Wendy Robie of “Twin Peaks” fame) who owns and runs Andromeda’s Dream Lounge (a name that hits hard on the obvious), which from the outside seems like one of many Chicago neighborhood bars and Jack Yancey (Tony Fitzpatrick), a trenchcoat-wearing gumshoe (who appears to have walked out of a dog-eared pulp novel from a drugstore spinner rack circa 1944) who deems himself a Dream Detective, both of whom have a history and a curious working relationship. She’s interested in hiring him to follow Maggie in the dream world, believing she needs help and that her dreams play a pivotal role in something that’s revealed to be mired in the movie’s confusing. For some reason, Jack enlists Jimmy’s help, knowing the kid needs a job and aware of his run ins with Maggie.



The issues and stressors Jimmy and Maggie are haunted by the real world feel relatable, making for more than one valid reasons to escape into their respective dreams. While Jimmy struggles to find confidence and an outlet for his creativity, he’s also dealing with the absence of his father. Maggie has to deal with a chronically problematic parent (Abby Pierce, doing what she can with a one-note role) where she works, along with a father (Tony Castillo) who wishes she’d finish law school instead of “babysitting”. Sigh. Parents.

The movie had enough going for it if it just dealt with the dreams we wrestle with in real life and how reality bleeds into the dreams we partake in when we sleep. That’s interesting right there. However, Schulze incorporates a demonic figure (Jay Worthington), something about Chicago’s Potawatomi tribe and includes Walt Whitman (Troy West) reciting his poem “To You” at legendary jazz joint, The Green Mill. Those three elements could’ve easily been eliminated. “Dreaming Grand Avenue” just tries to include too much, which ultimately results in a frustrating watch.

Still, there is something to some of the characters here that almost redeem the viewing experience. Robie carries a luminous regality as Andromeda and Fitzpatrick (a Chicago movie and theater staple and accomplished painter) nails distinctive dialogue that fits his role just right. I wouldn’t mind seeing a series of shorts with these two, regardless if they’re set in dreams or the real world. That being said, Jackson Rathbone (who played Sokka in the woeful misfire, “The Last Airbender“) and Andrea Londo (primarily known for Maria Salazar in “Narco”), could’ve benefitted from their characters being together more than the are here, since they have good chemistry and their characterization suffers when they’re on their own.

Produced by Newcity Chicago Film Project, “Dreaming Grand Avenue” can’t quite wake up from all the aspiring dreams it has. While I’m always rooting for a Chicago set film to do well, I found myself unfortunately losing interest halfway in and that’s never a good sign.






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