Rooney frontman Robert Schwartzman’s directorial debut was originally going to be titled Motherf—er. It fit: That version of the film followed a young gigolo courting multiple women. In the finished product, now titled Dreamland, the main character still has an older lover, though it’s less about the May-December romance and more about him finding someone who finally believes in him.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Johnny Simmons plays Monty, a piano player who has dreams of opening up his own bar. That’s not really going anywhere, and his relationship with his girlfriend (Mr. Robot‘s Frankie Shaw) isn’t either — and then he comes across Olivia (Transparent‘s Amy Landecker), a seductive married woman who immediately takes a liking to the lost Monty.
The final title borrows its name from “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland,” a song Olivia requests Monty play when they first meet at the hotel lounge where he’s filling in. “It echoes what these characters are going through, because they’re escaping something in their own lives together, … The idea of these two characters rendezvousing for this love affair, what they’re doing is meeting in dreamland,” Schwartzman tells EW.
But it wasn’t always going to be that song: Schwartzman and co-writer Benjamin Font originally wrote George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” into the script, though they knew from the get-go that they wouldn’t be able to nab the rights to the 1924 composition on their tight budget. So Schwartzman did some Googling and stumbled on the more affordable “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland.”
“It’s so great when you make a mistake or have to solve a problem and that alternative, that solution ends up being something that makes it something entirely new and exciting,” Schwartzman says.
This whole process is new and exciting to Schwartzman, who has previously only been in front of the camera in movies like cousin Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides and 2001’s The Princess Diaries. Although he considered acting in Dreamland, that option was short-lived. “I wanted to focus on making this movie, and I didn’t want anything else to get in the way of that,” he says. “This is my first go at it, so I wanted to really experience it and not find myself tangled up in it.”
Schwartzman recently screened Dreamland, which first premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, in Florida, where he said he thinks the older demographic they played to “really connected with what Olivia [Landecker’s character] was going through” and the disconnect she felt from her husband.
“That’s the beauty of movies in general, is you can escape your life or think about your life in a new way,” he says. “What I also love in movies is when something becomes unexpected or does a slight twist on reality. To me, Dreamland balances and walks a very fine line between reality and fantasy. It’s not fantasy in like, a Guillermo del Toro way, it’s fantasy in a very subtle way.”
Dreamland is now available via VOD and screening in both New York and Los Angeles. Watch the trailer — also featuring Schwartzman’s brother, Jason, and mother, Talia Shire, along with Alan Ruck and Noël Wells — below.