Magazine Dreams – Film Review (Sundance 2023)

he credits rolled for Magazine Dreams. Jonathan Majors gives a truly transformative performance in the film: it’s lucky he had done Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Creed III back to back, so he could keep the physique he gained through all three films. Magazine Dreams is a showcase for the depth of his capabilities as an actor, something i’m sure the other two franchise films won’t have given him the same chance to show.

Killian Maddox (Majors) is a young man who is obsessed with body building and can’t connect to the outside world. He is driving his body so he can be remembered for something, whether it’s competing in bodybuilding competitions, being chosen as a magazine cover model, or something far more sinister. Killian’s anger has gotten the best of him before you enter his world, to the extent that he has a state-mandated therapist who he isn’t getting much out of. When he is angry, his go-to phrase is “I’m gonna come down there, split your skull open and drink your brains like soup.” Which, understandably, might spook a few people.

The first hour of the film is a brilliant character study of this guy. His date with grocery cashier Jessie (Haley Bennett) is nightmarish for everybody concerned. There is an equally cringe-inducing scene later in the film involving him and a female sex worker. The film’s second half takes a serious nosedive, however, which it never quite recovers from. If you’ve seen one of Paul Schrader’s “Man in a Room” scenes, from Taxi Driver to The Card Counter, you have a feeling where this is headed—or inadvertently, by just seeing Joker you quickly see where this film is headed. It cops out at the end for delivering the onslaught of violence that’s needed to justify the left-turn the film makes around the half-hour mark.

Magazine Dreams is an admirable film from Elijah Bynum, whose previous film was Hot Summer Nights—a.k.a. the Timothée Chalamet vehicle that next to nobody has seen. Bynum has serious directing chops, and you get the sense that greatness will come with his third or fourth film.

The film might have worked better, given that Bynum frames Majors in such a homoerotic way, for one of the reveals to be that he is struggling with his own sexuality. This could have explained some of his behaviour and lack of connection to the world much better than taking the stereotypical violent Incel route. It also would’ve given the film more layers, and more space to deal with the crisis of his own masculinity that Killian is experiencing. Majors saves the film and actually elevates the material. This isn’t helped by the film’s musical cues, which sometimes feel too random and other times too on the nose: Nick Lowe’s original “The Beast in Me” plays during one scene, for instance.

It will be interesting to see how this plays on general release, because a smart distributor could spin Magazine Dreams into an acting-category awards contender for Majors. 


Ian Schultz

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