"Lucy, you're born into a family. You don't join them like you do the Marines!"
As her follow-up to the non-stop thriller Speed, Sandra Bullock (Forces of Nature, Hope Floats, The Net) was cast in an old-fashioned romantic comedy. While You Were Sleeping is predictable but charming, and shows us why Bullock is so darn likeable, and why Bill Pullman (Spaceballs, Mr. Wrong, Independence Day) is best when he sticks to comedy.
Facts of the Case
Lucy Moderatz (Bullock) is alone in life. She works as a ticket-taker for the Chicago Transit Authority. She has a secret crush on Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher—sex, lies, and videotape, Malice, The Hudsucker Proxy) a passenger whom she sees every morning between 8:00 and 8:15. She has never spoken to him, but dreams of finally meeting him and marrying him someday. Then, on Christmas day, three men rob Peter, pushing him off the platform and onto the tracks. He lies there, unconscious, and it is up to Lucy to save him. She jumps onto the tracks and pulls him to safety in the nick of time. Peter has narrowly missed being hit by the train, but he has been seriously injured in the fall. He is taken to the hospital, and is placed in intensive care in a coma. Along the way, hospital staff mistake Lucy for Peter's fiancée.
Enter Peter's family. The Callaghan clan is one of those explosively colorful movie families that always go everywhere and does everything together; anything less would spoil their shtick. They come to the hospital to visit Peter and are introduced to his "fiancée," Lucy. Despite her attempts to set the story straight they accept her as one of their own and invite her to celebrate Christmas with them the next day. Lucy is unsure what to do, but feels strangely drawn to them and goes to their house. While there she meets Jack (Pullman), Peter's free-spirited brother. Jack is suspicious of Lucy at first, but she begins to grow on him. The laughs continue, fueled by Lucy's mistaken identity and other misunderstandings, and sparked by the eccentricity of Peter's family.
Of course, this being a movie and all, you just know that Peter is bound to come out of his coma at the most inconvenient time. When he doesn't recognize Lucy, his family naturally assumes he has amnesia. This leads to more amusing moments as he tests his memory in various ways. Lucy and Jack continue to be swept along on a current of events and family eccentricities that culminates in a hospital wedding. I'll leave it to you to figure out which brother Lucy winds up with in the end.
While You Were Sleeping is an unusually heartwarming and entertaining romantic comedy. By all rights it shouldn't be; the story and situations are so contrived and so dependent on coincidence as to be completely unbelievable. Also, there really isn't much here that is very original. However, we don't generally go to the movies to see real life, and there can be something comforting in recycled plots, like wearing an old favorite pair of shoes. This movie succeeds in making the old seem new, making the stale seem fresh.
One of the ways it does this is through the performances of the two leads. Sandra Bullock is sweet, vulnerable, and altogether very likeable. Bill Pullman is very good as a down-to-earth nice guy, taking his first few tentative steps towards the woman with whom he is falling in love. After seeing his performance here, I am convinced that he should stay away from quasi-dramatic roles (like his role in Independence Day) and concentrate on comedy, as that is where his talents seem to be served the best.
The other notable performances in this movie come from the ensemble of character actors playing the Callaghans. There is Ox (Peter Boyle—The Candidate, Johnny Dangerously, Young Frankenstein), the blunt-spoken family patriarch who expects Jack to take over his estate furniture business someday. There is Elsie (Glynis Johns—Mary Poppins, The Ref, The Court Jester), the tippling grandmother with a delicate heart condition. There is also Saul, played by Jack Warden (12 Angry Men, All The President's Men, The Presidio). He is a loner whom the family has adopted as one of their own; he knows the truth about Lucy, but keeps it a secret because he can see how much she needs them and they need her. Warden is both gruff and gentle, and his performance is probably the most important supporting role in the movie.
While You Were Sleeping is a fairly old release by DVD standards. Hollywood Pictures Home Video released it in early 1998. Needless to say, the video and audio presentation is nothing to write home about. The movie is presented in 1.85:1 letterbox. The picture is quite soft and grainy throughout, with ample evidence of what appear to be phosphor patterns creating false motion in what should be solid surfaces. There appears to be some slight strobing and motion artifacting or "smearing" in clothing patterns. Colors overall are slightly washed out. It's not the worst transfer I've ever seen, but it isn't great. The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0. This is adequate for this movie, as most of the audio track is dialogue and as such is very front-focused anyway. Still, it is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering that even the lamest teen comedies get a Dolby 5.1 mix these days.
Extra content is limited to a single theatrical trailer. That's it. Well, unless you think a French language track is a feature worth crossing the street for.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In reviewing the above defense, I think the prosecution's arguments are explained quite well. This is a paint-by-numbers romantic comedy with nary a surprise or unexpected emotion in sight. The DVD presentation is a disappointment, especially given the increased standards we've come to expect in the last two and a half years. Still, I can't criticize this title too much, as it truly is enjoyable.
Sure, it's predictable and goofy. However, While You Were Sleeping rises above that and manages to be a really enjoyable, charming romantic comedy. What more could you ask for than that? Rent it as a date movie, and if you like it, go ahead and buy it.
Come on, do you really think I'm going to convict a harmless, fun little movie like this? The DVD is another matter; I'd convict it and the studio in a heartbeat but I'm pretty sure the statute of limitations has run out on this disc.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Hollywood Pictures
• Theatrical Trailer
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