When Dreamin’ Wild, the album Donnie and Joe Emerson recorded as teenagers in rural Washington was rediscovered after 30 years of obscurity, it became an overnight sensation, propelling the brothers to instant stardom.
While some might call their surprise break “lucky,” the brothers, who view their entire career from a Christian worldview, believe it was God’s plan all along.
“I don’t believe in luck. I never have. I believe things are predestined,” Donnie Emerson told The Christian Post. “I just take it really seriously. When I was a little boy, I always knew … that’s how we look at things. We were chosen. Why were we chosen? Don’t ask me, but I believe that.”
And faith has played a key role in the life and careers of the Emerson brothers and Donnie’s wife and bandmate, Nancy, as they’ve navigated the ups and downs of overnight fame later in life.
“What we’ve gone through is real,” Nancy Emerson told CP. “But we know we don’t go through this stuff alone. We depend on Jesus, we depend on prayers. Especially being performers, there’s a lot of ego, so we always have to center ourselves through prayer, through God and through Jesus.”
The Emerson Brothers’ story is now hitting the big screen in a star-studded biopic titled after their debut album, “Dreamin’ Wild,” helmed by Academy Award-nominated director Bill Pohlad. Releasing nationwide on Aug. 4, the film stars Casey Affleck, Noah Jupe, Jack Dylan Grazer, Zoey Deschanel and Walton Goggins.
The film tells the story of how, in the late 1970s, Donnie (Affleck) and Joe (Goggins) recorded “Dreamin’ Wild” in a recording studio that their father, Don Emerson Sr. (Beau Bridges), built for them on their family farm. The brothers released the album to little fanfare, and it was soon forgotten as the brothers moved on with their lives.
But in the early 2010s, the brother’s decades-old LP is discovered in an antique store, and Matt Sullivan (Chris Messina), the owner of a record label, visits the Emerson family and asks to reissue the album. It takes some convincing, but Donnie and Joe agree to have their album remastered. The brothers quickly gain a devout following and critical acclaim, even earning an 8 out of 10 in a review at online music mag Pitchfork.
But the success comes with mixed emotions for Donnie, who struggles with guilt as he navigates the weight of his family’s sacrifices and dreams.
Pohland, who previously directed the musical biopic about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, “Love & Mercy,” said he was initially hesitant to bring the Emerson’s story to the big screen, fearing it would be too similar to other musical films.
But after visiting the family, including Don and his wife, Salina Emerson, on their farm in Washington, he said his perspective changed.
“There are a lot of films out there these days that represent a whole range of emotions and lifestyles, but what attracted me to this story in the first place is the Emerson family and their authentic quality,” Pohlad told CP. “They are who they are. We stuck pretty much with the truth in the way the story is presented, and hopefully captured who the Emersons are.”
The family’s struggle is shown through a series of flashbacks, with Jupe playing a younger version of Donnie and Dylan playing Joe, highlighting the power of faith and resilience. It’s clear that the brother’s faith, instilled in them by their parents, who are shown praying over their children, acts as a guiding light and helps them navigate the turbulent waters of fame and success.
“My dad never looks at the obstacle; he just looks at the journey, and it’s going to get done. And now why does a person have those kinds of beliefs? Because that’s who my dad was,” Emerson said.
“Dreamin’ Wild” also successfully captures the essence of the 1970s music scene, where talent and determination could be overshadowed by commercial interests. The emotional impact of the film is heightened by the film’s musical score, which includes original tracks from the Emerson brothers and an original song by Donnie and Nancy, “When a Dream Is Beautiful.”
The family revealed they were able to screen the film along with their parents, something Donnie Emerson described as cathartic, especially as forgiveness is highlighted in one pivotal scene between a father and son.
“There was a lot of guilt,” he said. “My father and mother worked so hard. They believed in me, but I saw my dad come home from work after a 12,13 hour day, covered with dirt, and he’d clean up and watch me perform and play in that studio. And when someone gives all their efforts to that kid, you just can’t help but have that guilt. So when I watched it on the screen, it was like, ‘Wow, I was a little messed up.’ I felt like I can release it now.”
Nancy added, “He felt so guilty for what his parents went through; he felt like he owed them for the sacrifices they made. And watching the film, he was crying, he hit the wall with his body — it was amazing.”
“Bill honored our family,” she said. “It’s nice to walk away from a movie saying, ‘That was beautiful.”
“It’s like iron sharpens iron,” Donnie agreed.
“Dreamin’ Wild” is rated PG. The film premieres in theaters on Aug. 4.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com
Free Religious Freedom Updates
Join thousands of others to get the FREEDOM POST newsletter for free, sent twice a week from The Christian Post.