Sundance 2023: Jonathan Majors is Incredible in 'Magazine Dreams'

January 29, 2023

Magazine Dreams Review

Obsession can drive a man insane. No doubt about that. This riveting character study explores the intensity that comes with obsession, and how striving for perfection can ruin someone. Magazine Dreams is the second feature film written and directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Elijah Bynum, following his 2017 film Hot Summer Nights (which came out of SXSW). After screening during the first weekend at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, this has become one of the most talked about films at the entire fest. Everyone has something to say. It's being discussed so much not because it's the best film at the fest, but because it's one of those films that everyone must talk about - whether it's the lead performance from Jonathan Majors, the uncomfortable story it tells, or the brutality and intensity of what happens, or whether or not it's actually a good film, and how could it be better. All of this has been a big part of the conversations over the last week and that's always invigorating because it's better than watching a film that everyone instantly forgets about.

Magazine Dreams stars the inimitable Jonathan Majors, who was already discovered at Sundance 2019 in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. He must've decided to shoot this film while bulking up and getting ready to shoot Creed III for Michael B. Jordan, because his body is in impeccable shape. That's also exactly what this is about. Majors plays Killian Maddox, a wannabe body building champion. He has no friends, and he spends every free minute of his day working on his body - when he's not working at a grocery store or caring for his aging grandpop. He is beyond obsessed, pushing this concept from being another cautionary tale into something more extreme and thrilling. It gets especially dark as the story rambles on, as Killian struggles to reach the heights of fame and glory that he is hoping for. With every stumble, his anger turns him into a monster. The film bravely shows us how someone like this can be pushed to the most terrifying brink – audiences might say "no way, that's too much" but it's trying to show us the scary truth. Thankfully Bynum pulls back just before it goes too far and becomes something that might disgust anyone who watches.

That ultimately has become the question of the festival: Does it go too far? Does it get too dark? Well, that's up to you to decide, intrepid moviegoer; that's left to every last viewer to discuss and analyze on their own. I absolutely respect that Elijah Bynum wrote a screenplay that ventures into this kind of darkness and terror. It seems as if he just wants the audience to understand that loneliness and obsession with perfection are not virtues, they're a dangerous mix of potent ingredients that might turn people into hateful beings. Does that mean we should despise Killian Maddox? Is he unwatchable because he's such an irredeemable character? I don't think so, not at all. This is also another lesson from Bynum's film - it's a very sharp reminder that if we push people too far away, if we treat them with nothing but contempt, if we deem them unworthy of love, then we are also a part of their downfall. I felt pity for Killian, because everyone around him treated him so poorly, when all he needed was a friend or two. Someone who actually took the time to get to know him, perhaps fall in love with him, understand & respect him, and help him safely and sanely aim for his dreams.

If there's one thing most viewers can agree on with Magazine Dreams, it is that the ending does not work. Well, multiple endings. Elijah Bynum seems to have the same problem some filmmakers do - he just doesn't know how to end the film; which scenes to leave out, or how to stop and let the credits start rolling. There's a few shots where it cuts to black and it's like, great, that's it! Just leave it there! But he decides to continue on and it starts to get frustrating, we don't need to see more. But this is something he can easily fix after the festival before this is released. Whether or not someone likes the film, Magazine Dreams will leave everyone with plenty to think about. Its such a powerful watch it's hard to shake. Jonathan Majors absolutely owns it and that is what makes it work so well as a vivid character piece. It's an intense story, not easy to sit with. After falling for Jonathan Majors in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I'm at Sundance raving about him once again, saying he deserves all the awards and attention. Just don't get too obsessed with him, folks.

Alex's Sundance 2023 Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing / Or Letterboxd - @firstshowing

Find more posts: Review, Sundance 23



Subscribe to our feed or daily newsletter:

Follow Alex's main account on Twitter:

For only the latest posts - follow this:

Add our posts to your Feedlyclick here

Get all the news sent on Telegram Telegram