Jacob attends the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Amber, well after he and Amber decided to “just friends.” But as he drifts through the reception, dealing with awkward conversations, he is inundated with strange visions that leads to outbursts and threaten to overwhelm his reality.
Soon these dreams begin to mix in memories of his past romance with Amber, destabilizing him and putting him face-to-face with his regret. But eventually Jacob must untangle his past memories and present fantasies in order to finally speak his truth — and move forward into his future with a new sense of honesty.
Writer-director Travis Mauck’s blend of fantasy and drama is about the interplay of past and present, and how memories push and pull at our emotions. Essentially a type of fantasia into Jacob’s subjectivity, the film is visually stylish, with gleaming colors, beautiful cinematography and polished camerawork that lend a heightened yet realistic feeling to being inside Jacob’s head.
His imaginings are on the strange, surreal side, but they blend seamlessly into his memories of his relationship with Amber. While the visions are chaotic and emotionally fraught, the scenes in the past exist in a different emotional register, with quiet and subtle performances alive to what’s unspoken between the couple. They’re honest, touching and sad — and very relatable to anyone who longs for the past, as imperfect and wrong as it was.
The accelerating intensity of Jacob’s visions pushes him to speak honestly to Amber, and confront his own true feelings and desires, leading to a final sequence that’s both visually ravishing and gently heartbreaking. Fantasy and reality become entangled and harder to tell apart from one another, but when the illusion is finally punctured, the moment is subtle and quietly devastating, both for Jacob and the audience.
“Only In Dreams” is ultimately a sincere and emotional exploration of how to reckon with our past, with its unfulfilled longings, sadness and regret. Unabashed in its romanticism and filled with relatable moments, it takes awhile to settle into its own unique rhythms. But once it finds its footing, it creates a deeply personal journey that leaves viewers with a lyricism that makes the melancholy of life meaningful — and just a little more endurable in its beauty.