Anchor Bay // 2008 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 28th, 2008
If you're lucky, maybe one day you'll wake up and realize it was all just a dream.
"My whole life I feel like I've been sleepwalking. But you helped me. You woke me up."
Joleen (Charlize Theron, Aeon Flux) can't seem to get a grip on her life. A combination of drugs, sex, and bad decisions have hit Joleen hard, and now there's a distinct possibility that her daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia) may be taken away from her. In the chaos of the moment, Joleen simply disappears, forcing her brother, James (Nick Stahl, In the Bedroom), to take care of the girl. Slowly but surely, James and Tara begin to form a father-daughter bond of sorts. Their temporary happiness is threatened when social services determines that James is not an adequate father, so the two take off on a road trip across the country in a reckless attempt to find a place that is safe and quiet.
Sleepwalking, as many critics have all ready pointed out, is well-named. This statement is usually followed by jokes about the fact that everyone seems to be sleepwalking through this dreary movie. I like to think of the film itself as a sleepwalker in an unfamiliar house. The person gets up, wanders around aimlessly, runs into a lot of things, collecting bumps and bruises until they ultimately return to the starting point. This movie takes a similar journey.
Things start out well enough early on, with a very solid performance from Charlize Theron as an irresponsible mother who seems positively incapable of taking care of her pre-teen daughter. However, Theron vanishes by the time the film hits the twenty-minute mark, and she stays away for a long, long, long time. The film then turns it's attention to the relationship between Theron's brother and daughter, who are forced to form a father-son relationship of sorts. This is handled in a particularly uninteresting manner, with long, slow, sequences that don't really seem to go anywhere. Every once in a while, Woody Harrelson (Natural Born Killers) turns up, playing a buddy of Stahl's. Harrelson has absolutely nothing to do in this movie, except look half-crazed and half-drunk. His appearance gives us the false hope that something interesting might happen.
No, it is not to be. The film trudges on in a half-awake stupor, slowly making its way to a farm where Stahl's father lives. The father is played by Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), an actor who never fails to be interesting. However, he is given one of the worst roles of his career here (which is saying something, when you look at Hopper's career). The father is a one-dimensional meanie who stomps around Robb and Stahl like a tiger circling his prey. First he glares at them and insults them, then he swears at them, then he starts beating them. These scenes are played with an over-the-top fervor that contrasts terribly with the rest of the low-key film. Stahl is ultimately pushed into doing something he shouldn't do, which felt like a rather cheap attempt to bring emotion and complexity into this mess.
To add insult to some very serious injury, the movie tacks on a hokey finale that shreds away any moments of truth or insight the film may have hinted at along the way. Sleepwalking is defiantly anti-Hollywood for the most part, shunning action and expressive behavior quite vigorously. How on earth did this film manage to get an ending that could have been mistaken for the final scene of a Michael Bay movie? The actors all try very hard to sell this material, but their efforts are in vain. This is independent cinema posturing at it's worst, a movie trying to convince us that it is wise and insightful without ever actually presenting anything wise or insightful. All the instruments are here, but the music is missing. Hollywood bears the brunt of a lot of insults, but the are equally troublesome problems that plague independent films just as frequently. In its own way, Sleepwalking is just as bad as Daddy Day Camp.
Speaking of music, the film features a rather lovely score by composer Christopher Young. The music here finds the balance the film itself is missing, a nice compromise between honesty and warmth. It sounds quite good, and blends nicely with the quiet sound design. Visuals are quite lovely, with pleasant cinematography that beautifully captures Canada (attempting to do a decent impression of the American west). The transfer is very strong, too. Sleepwalking is easy on the eyes, if little else. Sadly, the extras are limited to a rather uninformative 18-minute featurette and a theatrical trailer.
This movie is such a waste of talent. Charlize Theron can be terrific in the right role, and she could have been terrific in this role, if the script had given her more to do. Nick Stahl more or less hits the right notes in his performance, why isn't he pushed into more interesting areas? AnnaSophia Robb was the radiant high point of the recent Bridge to Terabithia, whose idea was it to make her suppress as much feeling as possible? Why is Woody Harrelson even here? And why isn't Dennis Hopper given better dialogue? He could have turned the film's weakest point into a high point with a few adjustments. Shame on screenwriter Zac Stanford and director Bill Maher for raising our expectations by casting these people in their crummy movie.
Guilty. I'm sorry, ma'am, but there's nothing we can do. The movie is very ill, and there's just no cure at this point. We're going to have to put it to sleep.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* "A Mother's Shame, A Family's Pain: The Making of Sleepwalking"