"Arizona Dream" is a quirky little movie (made in 1991, released in Europe in 1993, and not in the US until 1994) directed by Emir Kusturica that starred Johnny Depp in the early part of his career, alongside veterans Jerry Lewis and Faye Dunaway, and rising contemporaries Lili Taylor and Vincent Gallo. The film had a very limited showing here in the States and for years went without an official US DVD release. In 2010, Warner finally came out with a US release under their Archives label, but their version is the original VHS release that inexplicably edits out 21 minutes from the original theatrical version -- what a shame. In contrast, the non-US region 0 release featured here includes the full 140-minute theater version, in 16:9 widescreen, and in English with optional subtitles. In short, this is the version to get.
The movie itself features Johnny Depp as a young man named Axel who is working for the Department of Fish and Game in New York Harbor tagging fish, but seems to yearn for some greater understanding of the world and people. His cousin Paul, played by Vincent Gallo, tricks him into paying a visit to Arizona to be the best man at the wedding of his uncle Leo, who raised him. Axel is briefly pursuaded to work in the showroom of his uncle's Cadillac lot, but is soon captivated by a visit from eccentric mother Elaine (Dunaway) and her daughter Grace (Taylor), and goes off to stay in their house in the desert. The rest of the film follows Axel's romance with the older Elaine, who longs to become untethered to the world with dreams of flying, and their mutual involvement in a love triangle of sorts with Grace, who herself dreams of and repeatedly attempts suicide. Axel tirelessly builds flying machines to help Elaine, Grace sabotages them (needlessly so, since they never work), Leo tries to rescue Axel away from them, and as Elaine becomes ever-more unhinged, Axel finds his affection transitioning from Elaine to Grace.
The overall tone is both tragic, as the characters struggle to understand and are thwarted in realizing their respective dreams, and absurdly comic, in their misguided efforts to do so. The entire film has a dream-like quality, as people sometimes find themselves levitating and Axel continues to see a flying flounder from his dream about an eskimo family depicted at the start of the movie (the film also bears the subtitle, "The Arrowtooth Waltz," named for the Arrowtooth flounder... I only wish I could get past Kusturica having the flounder flying vertically, rather than correctly on its side as a flatfish), and there are recurring dramatizations of this dream in which Lewis and Depp take on the roles. Unquestionably an indie-arthouse flick, the quirkiness of the movie's characters allow the actors to shine -- Dunaway, in a performance that she would later infamously claim was "brilliant," IS brilliant; Lewis renders an understated display of his comedic chops; Gallo gives hilarious performances renacting scenes from Raging Bull, North by Northwest, and the Godfather; Taylor is excellent as always; and Depp is wonderfully reined-in, reminscent of his role in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" There's also a cute self-referential moment when Gallo mentions Johnny Depp, with Depp sitting quietly and unphased in the background.
I don't know what 21 minutes the Warner edition edited out, but if any of this sounds like your thing (or if, like me, you saw the movie when it first came out and were dying to revisit it), you'll want this full-length version. It's an unassuming, quirky, imperfect, little masterpiece of filmmaking.