Anchor Bay // 2008 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // July 31st, 2008
I'll be back for your birthday.
Learning responsibility and finding oneself are two of the cornerstones of growing up. Some kids learn these lessons the easy way, some the hard way, and some never learn them at all. Those in the latter category, unfortunate as their lives can become, have kids of their own who must learn these lessons that their parents never did. For these kids, it's hardest of all, no matter how good or smart a child may be. Such is the case of Tara Reedy, whose goodness and intelligence will come in handy when her mother leaves her alone to learn the lessons she should have been taught.
Joleen (Charlize Theron, Monster) loses her home after her boyfriend is arrested for pot smuggling. With her daughter, Tara (Annasophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia), in tow, she moves in with her brother, James (Nick Stahl, Sin City), who is barely scraping by himself. In desperation, Joleen disappears, leaving only a note that she has a plan and will be back by Tara's birthday. Social Services, somehow, sees this as a problem, taking Tara out of James' home and putting her into foster care. She's miserable there, however, and begs James to take her away. Despite their lack of money and the inevitable charges that will be levied onto James, he steals her away from the group home and takes her to his father's (Dennis Hopper, Space Truckers) ranch, where old demons die hard and Tara finds out where she comes from.
In the world where Sleepwalking lives, no good happens to anyone and, at best, all the characters can hope for is some sense of stability. The film, written by Zac Stanford (Chumscrubber) seems to want to tell a story of redemption, but nobody learns anything and nothing changes. There is no evidence in their tragic, transient lives that anything better will happen to these people or that they will make better decisions next time; they have no capacity for change. Joleen, ready and willing to dump her child on the first person to come along, returns from her trip to the horror of losing her daughter, but nobody ever questions why she left in the first place. James, well intentioned as he may be, blindly leads his niece from bad situation to worse, somehow thinking that she'll be in a better situation with her abusive grandfather than with Social Services. He doesn't understand the first thing about responsibility and, with his actions at the end of the film, he won't be learning it anytime soon. Dad actually has some sense of responsibility, though a cruel and perverse way of teaching it. We can clearly see the reason why Joleen and James act as irrationally as they do, but this makes the characters neither good nor compelling. Tara is the only character worth anything but, given how she has been brought up, it's clear that everything positive will be stripped from her and she'll be left abandoning her own kids sometime sooner than later.
The most important part of Sleepwalking is the relationship between Tara and James. Annasophia Robb is a charming young actress, and you want to like her, but she has no chemistry with Nick Stahl, and the relationship feels forced. They seem more like two strangers forced into a car together than an uncle and niece on a road trip. If they live in the same house, how much get-to-know-you time does the film need? The entire middle act, apparently. When their crisis hits and their relationship would really have the chance to bloom, they once again seem like they've just met, as though they haven't already gone through the disappearance of Tara's mother together. Joleen, additionally, is as inconsistent in her relationships as the others. As the one who abandoned her daughter, she is something of a villain, even if she had no other choice (which she claims, though there's no explanation as to why, as if any would suffice), but nobody blames her, not even Social Services. Their concern is with Tara's whereabouts, where it should be, but I would think they would at least ask where she was. She could clearly care less about her brother, but her relation with her daughter is suspect as well. She goes from hateful of her daughter's impudence to total deadbeat to concerned, loving mom without reason or sense, seemingly only because the story calls for it.
While Sleepwalking is a competently made debut feature from director William Maher, it is inconsistent in almost every way. While some very pretty shots of the desolate Canadian landscape lend a palpably frigid feel to the shots, the direction is very bland and feels like it was pulled from a Lifetime movie. Very little effort went into visual design, with the image only serving the story at any point. If the story was better, this might be fine but, with neither side standing out and a dismally beak tone on top of it, Sleepwalking is pretty hard to watch. To make up for the deficiencies, the producers (who include Charlize Theron herself) assembled as star-studded cast, with an established star in Theron, an up-and-comer in Robb, an indie mainstay in Stahl, and a legend in Hopper. They even throw a cameo from Woody Harrelson into the mix, but none of it works. It crudely masks what is otherwise a dull and artless film. Everyone appears to be sleepwalking through their performances (I told myself I wouldn't say it, but there it is).
The disc for Sleepwalking, released by Anchor Bay, looks and sounds strong, with very little in the way of features. The anamorphic transfer is sharp with good color contrast and no defects. Anchor Bay has included a full frame presentation, which looks good as well, though I no longer see any point in making pan-and-scan transfers. The 5.1 surround sound track is nice and clear, though there isn't much need for very dynamic sound in this dialogue-heavy film. The only extra is a self-gratifying featurette where everyone gets an opportunity to discuss just how amazing everybody else was and how great the movie turned out. The only exception is Robb, who says in her first statement that she wasn't sold on the story at all and, by her subsequent comments, never really thought this was a good film. Ah, the wisdom of children.
All of the actors in this film have done the best job they could with the material they were given. Sleepwalking, however, will not be ranked high on any of their filmographies. The obvious, clichéd storytelling and mundane filmmaking are punctuated by a pointlessly dark tone that doesn't fit the story of redemption and discovering oneself that they try to convey.
Review content copyright © 2008 Daryl Loomis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "A Mother's Shame, A Family's Plan: The Making of Sleepwalking"