Jan 24, 2023
By Kaveh Jalinous
Elijah Bynum’s Magazine Dreams is a mostly paper-thin look at the dangers of toxic masculinity and bodybuilding culture, supported by an incredible Jonathan Majors performance but not much more.
The film follows Killian Maddox (Jonathan Majors), a socially awkward bodybuilder with one goal and one goal only: to make it to the top of the bodybuilding world. His days consist of the same processes. He takes care of his ailing grandfather (Harrison Page), works as a bagger at a local supermarket, spends hours at the gym and maintains a diet of 6,000 calories per day. Killian tries to assimilate into society, taking actions such as going on a date with his coworker (Haley Bennett) or attending court-mandated therapy sessions, but each of these attempts drives him further away from truly being understood. He is only happy when working out or writing to his favorite bodybuilding celebrity, Brad Vanderhorn (Mike O’Hearn).
Focusing on winning the national bodybuilding championship, Killian puts all his energy into sculpting his body to perfection. At the same time, his interactions with those around him cause his mental state to deteriorate rapidly, developing delusions of grandeur and misreading all social cues. Every step he takes to realize his dreams pushes him further away from making them a reality.
Since Magazine Dreams is a character study, the film’s narrative consists of the same story beats, constantly repeated, to show Killian’s daily routine and how it is disrupted. As the film continues, Bynum slowly increases the stakes around each scene, making the characters’ dialogues and actions more intense to an uncomfortable, deeply awkward degree. In the film’s first half, this structure works, introducing Killian in a striking way that shows his motivations, attitudes and inner vulnerabilities. Everything the character does, while shocking at some points, makes some sense because viewers have a clear understanding of how he sees the world and the people around him.
In the film’s second half, Bynum quickly loses control of the script. Suddenly, the narrative’s slow-burning intensity is replaced by quick, unsatisfying twists and turns, which exist solely to shock the viewer but not much more. New characters enter the film and exit as quickly as they came, melodramatic plotlines dilute and overcomplicate Killian’s character and underdeveloped themes make the story muddled and unfocused. By the time the film concludes, everything feels so manufactured that it’s difficult to understand what message the filmmaker wants to communicate, aside from surface-level ruminations on toxic masculinity.
Regardless of these setbacks, the greatest part of Magazine Dreams is Majors’ performance. The up-and-coming actor perfectly interprets the character’s physical struggle and complicated mental state. When the script and his performance effectively complement one another, it’s difficult to look away from the screen. And even when the story eventually loses steam, Majors still shines.
Author rating: 5/10
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