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While You Were Sleeping

Posted by martinteller on June 19, 2014

Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a ticket taker for the Chicago Transit Authority.  She lives alone with her cat, and longs for a family… and romance.  The object of her affection is Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher), though she doesn’t know his name and he doesn’t know hers.  He passes through her ticket booth every day.  One wintry day, he falls onto the tracks and is knocked unconscious.  She rescues him from the oncoming train and follows him to the hospital, but he’s in a coma.  After she is overheard talking to herself, the staff believes she is Peter’s fiancée.  The illusion continues when Peter’s family arrives, and Lucy doesn’t get a chance to clear up the confusion.  The Callaghans — father Ox (Peter Boyle), mother Midge (Micole Mercurio), grandmother Elsie (Glynis Johns), little sister Mary (Monica Keena) and family friend “Uncle” Saul (Jack Warden) — are thrilled to meet Lucy and warmly welcome her into the family.  Lucy is uncomfortable with the deception, but when Uncle Saul learns the truth, he encourages her to keep it up, as it’s bringing unity to the family (and possibly preventing Else from having a heart attack).  And then Peter’s brother Jack (Bill Pullman) arrives on the scene, and things get even more complicated.  What will happen when Peter wakes up?

I generally find this sort of premise very frustrating, and wish people would just come out and say what they want to say.  Prolonged misunderstandings and “well-meaning” deceptions are not my favorite plot devices.  But at least the script puts in a little work to establish Lucy as a person who has a difficult time articulating herself.  There did come a point where I started to get tired of waiting for the truth to come out, but it was much later in the film than I would have expected.  It’s really not a bad movie, despite the ridiculous premise and being rather predictable.

I’ve grown to like Sandra Bullock.  I typically don’t care for the movies she’s in, but I think she’s got a very natural quality to her.  It’s a quality that makes her believable as a lonely, awkward single woman despite her attractiveness.  She also has a vulnerable charm that keeps you from getting too annoyed with the mountain of lies she’s building.  Even if you don’t like what she’s doing, you can believe that she thinks it’s the right thing to do… or at least struggles with the question.  And she seems at ease with Pullman, who carries his end well too.  It’s a romantic comedy, you have to want the leads to get together.  And yep, I did.

The story also handles the secondary characters well.  There’s a nice even-handedness.  We’re given clues that Peter might be an arrogant dick, but when he (spoiler, if you’ve never seen a movie before) finally wakes up, he’s a decent fella.  Saul is played up as the preternaturally wise and good-hearted chum, but is shown to have some weakness by the end.  Even Joey Fusco (Michael Rispoli) has some nuance.  He comes off at first like a painful stereotypical goombah, the type of insufferable loser that romcoms often prop up as the unpleasant alternatives out there.  But he gets to show a bit of humanity, too (I briefly considered writing this review from Joey’s perspective, a tale of unrequited love).  Only the Ally Walker character (as Peter’s ex-girlfriend) is presented in a completely unflattering light, and perhaps that’s just because she has only a few minutes on the screen.

It isn’t Great Cinema.  There’s no real artistry to it, the music is intrusive and the story is, as I said, pretty predictable.  But for the most part it’s an easy and sometimes quite charming watch.  Rating: Good (73)


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