Adolescence is such a fiery age. It’s no wonder most adolescent film characters exude such a tropical vibe. Andrea Arnold visualized this well in my personal favorites Fish Tank and American Honey by literally and figuratively playing with fire. To perfectly capture the blistering intensity of teenage life, she places her fervid protagonists against golden summer light.
Meanwhile, in a land far, far away called Costa Rica, a cackling writer-director Valentina Maurel sees that fire is not enough, so she decides to add electricity, and boom! I Have Electric Dreams is what came out of the thick smoke.
In the scorching set of I Have Electric Dreams, we sweatily follow a blazing and full-charged 16-year-old named Eva (Daniela Marin Navarro), whose parents just separated. She lives with her former dancer mom, who’s enjoying her independent single mother era; a younger sister who suddenly wets her pants when she’s anxious; and their black cat Kwesi, who is a 10 but doesn’t know how to use the litter box. Her mom decides to renovate their big home—her gesture of moving on. Eva doesn’t seem excited about it, because she doesn’t want to live with them. She wants to move in with her outburst-prone, Bukowski-esque boho dad Martín (Reinaldo Amien Gutiérrez).
Eva’s desire to be with her father is eyebrow-raising and intriguing. What could be fueling her stubborn fire? What does her abusive father have that keeps drawing her in? Upon inspecting their scenes together, we see their connection isn’t really that special. Like flickering lightbulbs, the Eva-Martín relationship is working but faulty. And it appears that what energizes their duo is the endless switching from push to pull, violence to forgiveness, acceptance to rejection, and then back.
A visually and emotionally triggering spectacle, I Have Electric Dreams does a great job of rudely plugging itself into our own toxic relationship stories, regardless if they are platonic, romantic, or familial. Eva and her dad’s dynamic is disturbingly nostalgic for some reason; it is a reminder of the “addictive” feature of the toxic relationship we once all had. Well-performed by newcomer Daniela Marin Navarro, Eva is a girl who keeps choosing instability because that’s where the “high” is. We also see her being constantly dragged by this internal excitement, powered by this delusion that things might get better if she doesn’t give up on chasing her dad, who aspires to be more of a drunk poet than a reliable father.
But while Eva’s actions are questionable and infuriating, it is understandable. After all, we were adolescents once. We’ve all been a victim of a neural circuitry that knows nothing but hunt for dopamine. We’ve all been in that restless, hazardous age where we’re always on fire and electric—-capable of burning and electrocuting everything that we touch, including ourselves. But despite the burns and shocks, Eva maintains an unwavering spirit that shines brighter when she’s on her own.
Unplugging Eva from her father’s presence, Maurel puts some light on her raw and menacing journey of figuring out young adulthood while coping with her parent’s divorce. We roll along with her as she surrenders to her own curiosity, from smoking her first cigarette to having her first sexual encounter. In her mind, whatever feels right at the moment is the right thing to do. And despite being aware of her own carelessness, Eva knows that this is how she learns best.
With its flaming and galvanic vibe, I Have Electric Dreams is not afraid to char and stun its audience. It’s not a people-pleasing film, which I find admirable. Instead of romanticizing young adulthood and toxic relationships, the film approaches it from a brutally honest angle. Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without Valentina Maurel’s fearlessness as a writer-director and the amplifying performance of the Navarro-Gutiérrez tandem.