#MSPIFF42 Review: Dreamin’ Wild (2023) – a heartfelt musical biopic of the Emerson Brothers


Glad to be back to in-person screenings once again after a couple of years of being cooped up inside and watching movies at home. As an acquaintance who sat next to me at the film festival before a screening said, no matter how many times he’s seen movies in the movie theater, when the lights go down, he always feels the thrill of what’s about to unfold. Indeed, there’s something exhilarating and exciting to watch movies on the big screen with fellow film fans.

Here’s my first review of MSPIFF42’s opening night film… stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!



Dreamin’ Wild is a musical biopic about singer/songwriter Donnie Emmerson (Casey Affleck), whose childhood dream of musical success arrives thirty years later. When he was 16, he recorded an album called Dreamin’ Wild with his older brother Joe (Walton Goggins) that nobody cared about, until a collector discovered it 3 decades later, which leads to record label owner Matt Sullivan (Chris Messina) offering them to remaster the album. At this point, Donnie is nearing 50 with a loving wife Nancy (Zooey Deschanel), and two kids. They run a small business of a small recording studio and play gigs at small venues… he clearly still loves music but likely has accepted the fact that he would never be famous.

That is until a second chance at success beckons. Even a New York Times journalist Steven Kurutz came a-knockin’ and this movie is based on his article that MN-based filmmaker Bill Pohlad adapted into a screenplay. To most people, rediscovery seems like an amazing blessing, but the movie also shows how it could be a burden, as the ghost of Donnie’s past collides with his long-suppressed emotions. There’s also tension between the two siblings as they’ve chosen different paths since their teenage years.

Noah Jupe and Jack Dylan Grazer portray the younger versions of Donnie and Joe, who grew up on a vast family farm in Fruitland, Washington, Pohlad weaves the past and present throughout the entire almost-2-hour running time, immersing us in Donnie’s love of songwriting and performing. Don Sr. (Beau Bridges) actually built their sons a $100k recording studio to self-produce/release their first album, it’s as much a tale about the unconditional love of family as it is about music.


Pohlad shies away from giving this biopic a glitzy fairy-tale treatment despite incorporating a magical realism style. Instead, he keeps things grounded with a reserved approach to the story, but with a heartfelt familial warmth that’s emotionally organic. Affleck believably conveys the torment of someone to whom music is everything, though his intensely brooding performance can be frustrating at times as Donnie struggles with the responsibility of newfound fame, as well as guilt over his father’s financial sacrifice for his musical passion. I was more transfixed by Noah Jupe here with his effortless rock-star charisma as the younger Donnie. One of my favorite moments is the fantastical scene where the older and younger Donnie sit side by side on their parent’s farm… it’s one of those classic wishful thinking we all have about meeting our younger selves.

I love that the movie features original music by Donnie Emerson himself and the sun-kissed, lush visuals by DP Arnaud Potier are enchanting. The overly melancholic tone and slow pacing drag the film a bit, but it does offer plenty of opportunities to mull over the themes the movie presents. While watching this I often contemplate what would happen if this scenario happens to me, how would I react to it? Overall there’s plenty to admire in this biographical drama. Pohlad’s deep love of music is palpable in depicting a gifted musician’s artistic process.

3.5/5 Reels

The official US release date isn’t until August, but I highly recommend this once it’s available in theaters near you.

5 thoughts on “#MSPIFF42 Review: Dreamin’ Wild (2023) – a heartfelt musical biopic of the Emerson Brothers

  1. Pingback: Dreamin’ Wild (2023) – a heartfelt musical biopic of the Emerson Brothers – FLIXCHATTER FILM BLOG – Motube

  2. Pingback: MNFCA at the MSPIFF 2023 – The Minnesota Film Critics Alliance

  3. Pingback: What I Watched in April 2023 + Mini Reviews + Movie Of the Month – FLIXCHATTER FILM BLOG

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