Majors’ Powerful Performance Carries Intense Drama [Sundance]

Feb 23, 2023

Home Movie Reviews Magazine Dreams Review: Majors’ Powerful Performance Carries Intense Drama [Sundance]

Powered by an incredible, devoted performance from Jonathan Majors, the film stumbles in its last act, but it is gripping & intense all the same.

Jonathan Majors in Magazine Dreams

Written and directed by Elijah Bynum, Magazine Dreams operates on sheer ferocity alone. The film tackles a plethora of thought-provoking themes, and it leans into the heaviness and discomfort quite a bit, so much so that it will have audiences squirming in their seats. Powered by an incredible, devoted performance from Jonathan Majors, Magazine Dreams stumbles in its last act and repeats itself too often, but it is gripping and intense all the same.

Killian Maddox (Majors) is an aspiring bodybuilder who hopes to one day be famous, emulating his idol by being on the cover of magazines. Killian lives with his sick grandfather, William Lattimore (Harrison Page), and struggles to balance his bodybuilding training and food intake while taking care of his grandfather, working at the local grocery store, and attending court-mandated therapy sessions. Killian has difficulty keeping his temper at bay and lives under constant, and self-imposed, pressure to be the perfect bodybuilder. He thinks if he can finally make it in the competitive field of bodybuilding, everyone will know his name and understand his dreams.
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Magazine Dreams explores the toxicity of masculinity and physical perfection, bodybuilding culture, and the things that can drive a man to violence — including isolation. It also tackles fame obsessives, as Killian wants the glory, the attention, and the limelight that comes with being a well-known bodybuilder. It is not at all an easy film to watch, and it can also be deeply uncomfortable. The film is incredibly intense, and it never lets up, often to the point of repetition, leaving Killian to go through the same motions over and over again with no major payoff until the very end.

Despite the last third of the film going around in circles, Magazine Dreams escalates the tension well. The audience never really knows when Killian might go off the deep end, or what he might do at any given point. Bynum’s script teases and pulls back, allowing the audience to sit in the disconcerting elements of the story and Killian’s unpredictable behavior. The film is simple, but contains a lot of complexity. There’s a darkness, a grim atmosphere that permeates the entirety of the film. It’s pervasive and often suffocating, the discomfort palpable in almost every scene. It’s pretty heavy, and it often feels like there is no room to breathe or escape the constant foreboding.

Majors’ dedicated performance holds Magazine Dreams together. The actor gives his all in a guttural role that requires more than just a physical transformation. Majors’ performance is restrained and untethered all at once. He conveys Killian’s loneliness, anger, insecurities, and need for attention — as well as an array of other emotions — through huddled body language, the intensity of his brows and the tightness of his lips. Majors is tasked with the impossible: To make Killian both fearful and feared. The actor succeeds in balancing both, making the audience shrink back when Killian lashes out and sympathize with him when he’s been wronged. Without Majors, the film wouldn’t have worked nearly as well.

Bynum’s writing also provides several instances where Killian is either apologizing or on the brink of politeness that, in a snap, could turn to violence. It’s a tough line to walk, and the film doesn’t always benefit from this type of repetition. To that end, Magazine Dreams could easily be edited down without losing any of its momentum. The final act of the film is a never-ending cycle of Killian nearly doing things, pushing the envelope of violence before reeling himself back in. To be sure, the audience waits with bated breath to see whether he will do anything drastic. At the same time, Magazine Dreams suffers under this approach because it goes on for too long.

Still, Magazine Dreams is still worth watching. Majors’ performance is impeccable; he’s committed to this portrayal and able to explore Killian’s interiority. The film itself can be rather unsettling and daunting, going to uncomfortable places to make its point. While that point isn’t as refined as it could be, the film remains engaging throughout, even if it is tough to sit through.

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Magazine Dreams premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival January 20. The film is 124 minutes long and not yet rated.

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