Movies That Changed Us: The Dream Team

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I could have taken my entry into this series in a number of different directions. There are, of course, the monoliths of cinema that are important to me—
The Godfather

Duck Soup

Casablanca

The Third Man,Â
ten thousand others—and yet none of these felt right. It’s easy to pick a watershed film and call it a day, but as much as I love those film, none of them captured that communal viewing experience that is intrinsic to the enjoyment of a great movie. That’s why my first Movie That Changed Us is 1989’sÂ
The Dream Team
. You can watch it on NetflixÂ
here
. It’s completely worth it.

I could have taken my entry into this series in a number of different directions. There are, of course, the monoliths of cinema that are important to me—The GodfatherDuck SoupCasablancaThe Third Man, ten thousand others—and yet none of these felt right. It’s easy to pick a watershed film and call it a day, but as much as I love those film, none of them captured that communal viewing experience that is intrinsic to the enjoyment of a great movie. That’s why my first Movie That Changed Us is 1989’s The Dream Team. You can watch it on Netflix here. It’s completely worth it.

{{page_break}}First, a little background. Every year, my family takes a trip to New Hampshire to visit some friends. In the town where we stayed, there used to be a video rental place called The Tape Escape. Whenever we had nothing to do on any given night, my dad, and my brother, and I would go down to Tape Escape and find a movie to watch. More often than not, we’d watch whatever my dad picked out and it was always a hit. The Dream Team is important to me not simply because it is great (though it is), but also because it’s kind of my little secret. I don’t know of anyone else who has seen this movie besides my brother, my father, and myself, yet whenever we bring it up with each other, it brings a smile to all our faces.

The Dream Team plot in a nutshell: four psychiatric patients, on their way to a ball game, get lost in New York City. Hijinks ensue. The group includes Billy (Michael Keaton), a pathological liar and occasional rageaholic; Henry (Christopher Lloyd), an obsessive-compulsive who likes to pretend that he is a doctor at the facility; Jack (Peter Boyle), who thinks he’s Jesus; and Albert (Stephen Furst), who can only speak in baseball terms.

Read that last paragraph again. I’m always baffled at how a movie with a cast that stellar could be so under the radar. You’ve got Keaton, who was a quintessential ’80s icon at this point. He was backed by Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle of Young Frankenstein (and later Everybody Loves Raymond fame), and Animal House alum Stephen Furst, who should have caught second-hand comedy just from appearing in that classic. All four of these principals are incredible, and incredibly funny in this movie.

The film is really punctuated by a lot of little moments. Whether it’s the gang belting out “Hit The Road Jack,” Peter Boyle offering to “hold back the water” should the Holland Tunnel flood or revisiting his former coworkers, or the various lies that casually roll off Keaton’s tongue, all of these form a continually amusing, and sometimes oddly touching, cohesive whole. Christopher Lloyd’s visit to his wife and daughter is still one of the saddest things I can ever recall seeing.

That’s where The Dream Team’s appeal stems from for me. It’s just an immensely quotable, imitable work that functions as a great inside joke due to its relative obscurity. I can’t count how many times my family and I have cracked up at Boyle’s antics, and I may occasionally mutter “batter up” while at the urinal. More important than the formal aspects of the film is my personal relationship to it.

I don’t mean to come off as some sort of snob, nor do I mean to say that I only enjoy this film because I have never met anyone else who has heard of it. That my appreciation for the film is augmented by its relative obscurity is not to say that I don’t sing this film’s praises every chance I get. You absolutely must watch this hidden gem. But I do think that with the growing ubiquity and democratization of this century-old medium, everyone should have their own set of films outside of the obvious that they consider essential. I think that people should take a sense of pride in treading off the beaten path.

It’s easy, when learning about film, to go back and only watch the watershed films—the Citizen Kanes, the Best Picture winners, the highest grossing—but to do so would be a waste. There is equal joy in finding a film that one can enjoy with a group of people that they’re close to and that they can make into their own little ritual.

That’s why The Dream Team is so important to me. Aside from being an exceptionally solid comedy, it’s grown into its own sort of joke outside of its substance. Just a mention will bring a grin to my brother’s face, or my dad’s face, or mine, and pretty soon, we’ll find that we’ve been quoting it for the past twenty minutes.