I have to say that it’s frustrating to watch a film where a very beautiful woman mopes around wondering why she cannot find a guy or where a handsome man pines for the woman of his dreams. That’s why I didn’t expect to like “While You Were Sleeping.” Are you kidding me? Sandra Bullock having trouble finding a guy? Sitting in a transit booth HOPING a guy will talk to her? Really? You’ve got to be kidding – she’d have to pile furniture up against the door to keep ’em out. Well, “While You Were Sleeping” turns out to be sweet and, most importantly, endearing. It has a great cast beneath the A-list headliner named Bullock, with a special nod to Jack Warden as well as a “well done” to Peter Boyle and Micole Mercurio. If you liked any of the chick flicks of the 1990s (from “Sleepless in Seattle” to “You’ve Got Mail” – click here for my review), then you either went or will go ga-ga over this one.
‘While You were Sleeping’
(1995; 103 minutes; rated PG; directed by Jon Turteltaub and starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher)
ODD CIRCUMSTANCE DONE WELL
(NOTE: I expanded this review and updated links on Feb. 10, 2016.)
If there was anything that could have sunk “While You Were Sleeping” it would be stereotypes. From the plot (woman says she’s the fiancée to man in coma) to falling in love for real with another man to the real fiancée causing problems to the stereotypical family with the usual problems that pretty much all clear up by the end of the film. Well, “While You Were Sleeping” faced those potential pitfalls and didn’t miss a beat – it sweet and wonderful and is another of the guilty pleasures along the lines of “You’ve Got Mail.”
After the work by the actors, I was most impressed with the plot and how the director managed not to let it fall into becoming treacle. It would have been very easy – headliner Sandra Bullock finds her soulmate in a family that is just too perfect even with their little imperfections. Still, director Jon Turteltaub evades the pitfalls and moves seamlessly from one emotional crisis in the plot to the next with aplomb and consistency.
In “While You Were Sleeping,” Bullock plays “Lucy Moderatz” and she’s a Chicago Transit Authority booth attendant who’s got her eye on a guy (Peter Gallagher as “Peter Callaghan”) she sees daily but who has never spoken to her. He’s handsome and perfectly dressed and on Christmas Day (she’s working because she doesn’t have family) he’s accosted on the train platform by muggers and gets knocked down on the tracks. Bullock saves his life and at the emergency room mumbles about how she’s going to marry him. A nurse hears her and gets her into the man’s room. From there, it’s off to the races with the lie that’s she’s the fiancée and everyone’s sympathetic because he’s now in a coma.
Bullock immediately meets the whole family and they all immediately fall in love with her. She debates about telling them, but ultimately decides to wait (of course, otherwise there wouldn’t be a movie). Into the action comes the brother, “Jack Callaghan” played by Bill Pullman, and Bullock is truly smitten and not just admiring from afar.
Through a Christmas celebration; the announcement of a strange medical condition for Gallagher (she heard from one of his friends who stopped by the hospital); a series of encounters that gets everyone wondering about everything and finally him coming awake and his real fiancée blasting her way back into his life (she fled to Europe, but decided to marry him anyway).
Of course it all gets solved in the most sappy way possible (at her transit kiosk … awwww) but it’s handled so well that by this time she and Pullman could have ridden off into the sky on a unicorn and Turteltaub could have pulled it off.
Here’s a look at some of the primary cast:
- I’m sure Oscar winner Bullock can give a bad performance (I didn’t see “Miss Congeniality II: Armed and Fabulous” but I hear it stunk up the joint) but you can’t find it here. She’s just wonderful as the lonely woman looking for companionship in the wake of her father’s death. Bullock is wonderfully caring, understanding and quite the friend – even after she tells a friend of the family her secret and he puts off telling everyone. From many actors, all of that would have come out as sickeningly sweet. Not Sandra. Bullock has been in so many films and a few to mention are “Speed,” “Gravity” (she was nominated for an Oscar for this one) and her Oscar-winning “The Blind Side.”
- The very best of a solid supporting cast comes from Jack Warden, who plays family friend “Saul.” Warden does a great job in showing empathy and he also does worldly-wise with compassion very easily. Without an actor of Warden’s ability and his talent to bring it off here, then “While You Were Sleeping” would have most likely been just another film. He was in “12 Angry Men” and “All the President’s Men” (click here for my review) but unfortunately he was cashing a check when he did a very poor job in a crappy film called “Dirty Work” with Norm MacDonald (click here for my review).
- As the male lead, Pullman is quietly confident, intelligent and friendly (no wonder Bullock likes him). Although real guys with these traits would have all the masculinity of a feminine hygiene product, Pullman successfully avoids this potential hurdle. He has also been in films as varied as “Independence Day” and “Spaceballs,” but both didn’t match his work in his first film (“Ruthless People” – click here for my review) or even the dark drama “You Kill Me” (click here for my review).
- Although Gallagher is a key part of the film, he doesn’t do much. OK, he’s in a coma for a block of time but when he’s awake he looks like he’s going through the motions. He was much better as the realtor king in “American Beauty” and was also better in the long-forgotten, but steamy threesome film “Summer Lovers” with Daryl Hannah and Valérie Quennessen.
- Peter Boyle is efficient as “Ox Callaghan” (Gallagher’s father) and Micole Mercurio is the same as the mother “Midge Callaghan.” Again, other actors in these two roles would have been a detraction from the film and they both manage to do a good job without trying to stand out with characters who would not weather being scene-stealers well. Boyle is best remembered as the TV father on “Everybody Loves Raymond” and was also in serious film drama such as “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.” Mercurio was also in “Flashdance” and “What Lies Beneath.”
- One neat little character is “Joe Fusco Jr.” played by Michael Rispoli. The character is both a chauvinist and a pig and Rispoli does a wonderful job as the guy trying to come off confident while being a complete loser. However, while he is overly enamored with Bullock, he shows both loyalty and true friendship when he makes sure no one is going to be mean to her. Like I said, here is a wonderfully and unexpectedly good turn by an actor who has been in “The Rum Diary” and the remake of “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3” (although the original spelled out the numerals – click here for my review of the original).
- Another family member (grandmother “Elise”) is played competently by Oscar nominee (for “The Sundowners” not “While You Were Sleeping”) Glynis Johns. She is energetically ditzy but, like so many others here, just comes off endearing. Johns has also been in “Mary Poppins” and “The Ref.”
Finally, I’m not sure who on Netflix had someone from the UK do the closed captioning, but all the Old English spellings (colour for color, etc.) is hugely annoying for those who need to occasionally use CC.
“While You Were Sleeping” was the 15th ranked film at the box office in 1995 with $81 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. It’s budget was estimated at $17 million and worldwide “While You Were Sleeping” brought in $182 million and made it a financial success, according to Wiki. It’s too bad that stinkers like “Waterworld” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” came in ahead of it and the No. 1 film of the year was “Toy Story” with $191.7 million.
Other films from that year that I’ve reviewed include: the 007 thriller “GoldenEye” (click here for my review); “Get Shorty” (click here for my review); “Jumanji” (click here for my review); the HBO film “Citizen X” (click here for my review); “Heat” (click here for my review); “Man of the House” (click here for my review); and “Assassins” (click here for my review). The total piece of crap I reviewed from that year was “Bye Bye Love” (click here for my review).
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- Thank goodness that initial casting ideas don’t pan out. Harrison Ford and Geena Davis both turned down the co-starring roles, while the part was written for Demi Moore and the uniquely talentless Julia Roberts also tuned down the role of “Lucy.” Whew! Roberts? No way. Davis? Interesting but, nah. Harrison Ford? Miscasting at its best. Moore? Certainly not a good idea.
- However, the biggest thank goodness in casting is that Matthew McConaguhey didn’t get the role of “Jack.” I say thankfully since he has very little talent and would have been a serious drag to the film. Turteltaub also rejected Russell Crowe for the role and while it might have been interesting, I’m not sure it would have worked out for the best.
- Ally Walker plays Gallagher’s real fiancée (“Ashley Bartlett Bacon”) and she does a good job as the volatile girlfriend in serious need of a therapist. Walker has also been in “Universal Soldier” as well as a number of TV roles.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The original screenplay was about a woman in a coma and a man pretending to be her fiancé. Many studio executives thought this to be too predatory, but one suggested reversing the roles. Once the script was rewritten, the movie was picked up by Hollywood Pictures.”
- Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Images of the world and Sleeping Beauty recur in the film: the young version of Lucy in the beginning is being read “Sleeping Beauty” by her father (the film is a role reversal of “Sleeping Beauty”: Peter is the beauty, and Lucy the Prince); Lucy has a globe in her apartment (visible after talking to Jack), and of course the gift of her mother to her father, the light up globe lamp recurs as well.”
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