Magazine Dreams deserves to be awarded in every way for the passion and commitment Jonathan Majors showed in his performance.
The obsessed artist story is one we’ve seen time and time again, from Nina’s quest to be the ultimate swan queen in “Black Swan” to Andrew’s music dreams in “Whiplash.” But not even they can rise to the levels of blood, sweat and tears shown by amateur bodybuilder Killian Maddox.
In Elijah Bynum’s second feature film “Magazine Dreams,” the director/screenwriter takes his protagonist, and subsequently the audience, through hell and back with this intense portrait of an obsessed bodybuilder willing to put his health and safety on the line for glory.
It’s a standout performance for Jonathan Majors who gives it his all from the look of a sculpted professional to the emotional and mental downturns he takes. There are plenty of twists and beats the film takes – not all of them necessarily needed – but Majors finds a way to command every scene and keep our attention.
The film’s opening shots show us what has become of Killian (Majors) after years of grueling work. With warm chandeliers lighting up a room, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw highlights Killian’s chiseled muscles and incredible physic, making him look more like a god rather than a human being. For the last several years, bodybuilding is all that Killian has thought about.
His bedroom is lined with posters and magazine covers of other sculpted men, he practices his show poses and works out whenever he can and sticks to a rigorous 6,000-calorie per day diet. The pinnacle of achievement for Killian is leaving a great legacy behind and landing a magazine cover like his idol, Brad Vanderhorn (Michael O’Hearn). Looking at how hard this man has worked over the years, you really can’t help but root for him.
But there is a darker side to Killian. He has had a life full of hardships stemming from the violent way he lost his parents, and we see him unleash rage that is terrifying, but delivered in such a powerful way by Majors. Conversations he has with a court-ordered therapist also give us more insight into his past, as well as moments of anger that take over him, like an incident with a paint hardware store. He also has a hard time connecting with others.
One moment he will be the sweet man shyly flirting with a cashier at a grocery store (Haley Bennett), making him even more likable. But when they go on a date and he goes on about his bodybuilding ambitions, she realizes just how obsessed he is, and it’s understandable that she’s looking for the exit.
Bynum’s exploration of beauty and perfection from a male perspective is quite moving because it’s not discussed enough in cinema or many other forms of entertainment. No matter how hard Killian works out, he can’t seem to get his legs to fill out the way he wants them to, nor can he get a judge’s comment about his small deltoids out of his head. He also struggles to get any attention during competitions, giving him even more ammo to spiral about.
We see him inject himself with steroids in an attempt to become even more muscular, and he even pushes himself to the brink of death in order to achieve greatness. It’s tough to watch just how hard he is willing to push himself and how little satisfaction he has in his abilities. What makes it all even more compelling is Majors’ committed performance in which he shows how truly vulnerable this character is despite his grand stature.
All the pressure and personal anguish (not to mention racism) in Killian’s life leads to an explosive third act that takes notes from Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Todd Phillips’ “Joker” when it comes to a character on the brink of causing destruction.
In this case, however, Bynum ends up trying to thread too many storylines, leading to an exhausting homestretch to the end. Killian searches for love and affection from a number of people, including a sex worker (Taylour Paige) and a man, but none of it ends up going quite as planned. Not to mention, many storylines or plot points become repetitive.
In the end, one can’t help but marvel at the work Majors has delivered in “Magazine Dreams.” It’s a performance that deserves to be awarded in every way for the passion and commitment he showed and certainly one that will be talked about all year.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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About Magazine Dreams
Killian Maddox lives with his ailing veteran grandfather, obsessively working out between court-mandated therapy appointments and part-time shifts at a grocery store where he harbors a crush on a friendly cashier.
Though Killian’s struggles to read social cues and maintain control of his volatile temper amplify his sense of disconnection amid a hostile world, nothing deters him from his fiercely protected dream of bodybuilding superstardom, not even the doctors who warn that he’s causing permanent damage to his body with his quest.
Magazine Dreams played at the Sundance Film Festival 2023.