Arizona Dream (1991)

| March 21, 2010

Being a huge Johnny Depp fan, I know he has played in some very odd roles—but not this time. In Arizona Dream, he stars as young Axel, a man working in New York tagging fish for a living. The only thing strange about it is him claiming to see into the souls of the fish he tags.
In this coming of age tale, Axel is brought out to Arizona by Paul (Vincent Gallo) against his will to be the best man in the wedding of his Uncle Leo, played by Jerry Lewis. Once in Arizona, Axel can’t refuse his car-dealer of an uncle and agrees to stay for the wedding, only to get talked into staying longer to work at Uncle Leo’s car dealership. Axel’s first customer is Faye Dunaway’s bombshell of a widow, Elaine. Unfortunately, she already has a relationship going with Paul, who quickly takes Elaine from Axel and pushes him towards her suicidal step-daughter, Grace (Lili Taylor). Axel eventually wins Elaine over, building her an amateur plane, appealing to her dream of being able to fly. Grace can’t stand that her mother in law finds it appropriate to have relations with men half her age, much similar to the way that Axel finds it inappropriate that his Uncle Leo marries a twenty-year old Polish girl.
Throughout the film, Axel must put the pieces together to discover the difference between lust and love—to choose between the immediate wants and those that are more fulfilling over time as well as learn to cope with the depressing idea that you have no choice but to become your parents. With his parents dead, the closest thing to a parent for Axel is his Uncle Leo. Axel starts out well, resisting becoming anything what his Uncle is like, but quickly succumbs to it.
What should really drive this film is a moment forcing Axel to decide to break free from becoming what his Uncle is like. There is a moment halfway through the film, between Axel and Grace as he is about to put her out of her misery but can’t bring himself actually shoot her. She begs him to, but he can’t. So she starts a twisted game of spin the bottle with the gun. They form a bond over this, which seems too easy, as is the relationships between several of the characters. There isn’t a lot of sustenance.
A film driven by dreams, Arizona Dreams, directed by Emir Kusturica, is a film to see if you’re looking for a wacky, low key film with three big name actors. Faye Dunaway. Jerry Lewis. Johnny Depp. A casting director’s dream. And it is now available to viewers on DVD as of March 16. You may also get more information at the Warner Archive: or purchase here.

About the Author:

Jessica is a writer and screenwriter living in the Chicagoland area. Having graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a Bachelor's in Film/Video Screenwriting, Jessica's goal is to have an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay by the 100th annual awards.
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