By Ray Bennett
BERLIN – One of the characters in Ryan Eslinger’s joyless drama of wasted lives, “When a Man Falls in the Forest,” listens to a self-help tape called “An Exploratory Guide to Lucid Dreaming.” It’s too bad the writer-director didn’t come across one for lucid filmmaking.
Sharon Stone is an executive producer of the film, and she plays a woman preoccupied with the fact that she has lost her looks, though the only evidence of that is that she doesn’t wear makeup. Stone fans are not the only ones unlikely to flock to this dull, wearying picture.
There are three deeply unhappy men in the film who went to high school together but haven’t been in touch for years, though two of them were drinking buddies for a while. One is caught in a forlorn marriage, another hasn’t dated in years since the woman he loved was killed in a car accident for which he blames himself, and the third, well, he can’t even dream straight.
Eslinger provides so little information about this hapless trio that it’s difficult to figure out what they’re whining about. Bill (Dylan Baker) is the kind of janitor you don’t want to be caught in the office with late at night. At work, he listens to opera to drown out the sound of the vacuum cleaner, and during the day he sleeps with headphones on listening to a woman nattering about how to improve his dreams.
Eslinger introduces some dream sequences having to do with Bill’s comely neighbor, a blonde he suspects is being beaten by her husband. He’s the hero in his dreams, but he hasn’t really mastered the bit about being lucid.
Gary (Timothy Hutton, pictured with Stone) works in the office Bill cleans, and lately he’s been staying late, snoring on his desk or crying in the bathroom. Bill senses something’s up, but even though he’s the type that corrects the alphabetical order of his opera tapes at the library, he doesn’t ask about it.
At home, Gary’s sad wife, Karen (Stone), tries to communicate with her increasingly distant husband, but when he follows her to the grocery store and tries to reignite their earlier flirtatious ways, she crumples in self-pity over how she is not a head-turner anymore.
For no apparent reason, Gary phones his old buddy Travis (Pruitt Taylor Vince), but when they get together for a beer, he just wants to leave. Travis is a touch less passive than Bill, but when he drops in unexpectedly and finds Gary asleep on the couch in his clothes and asks if he can help, Gary just tells him what a loser he is.
There’s something in the background about Gary being in trouble with the law, and Karen follows the traditional path of disaffected, once-beautiful housewives by taking to shoplifting, but these elements go nowhere.
A great mystery writer used to say that when he had writer’s block, he’d just have someone walk in with a gun, and guess what? That’s as lucid as this film gets.
Venue: Berlin International Film Festival, In Competition; Cast: Timothy Hutton, Sharon Stone, Dylan Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Stacie Bono, David Williams, Nicholas Elia, Melanie Yeats; Director-writer: Ryan Eslinger; Director of photography: Lawrence Sher; Production designer: Andy Deskin; Music: Paul Michael Thomas, John Sereda; Costume designer: Ken Shapkin; Editors: Jamie Alain, Ryan Eslinger; Producers: Mary Aloe, Kirk Shaw; Executive producers: Sharon Stone, John F.S. Laing, Michael Dimanno Production: Proud Mary Entertainment, Insight Film; Not rated; running time, 85 minutes.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.