Plot: James Reedy (Nick Stahl) is a man who essentially sleepwalks through life. He has no ambition, no money, and no friends. His only real connection with the outside world is his troubled older sister Jolene (Charlize Theron). When Jolene's boyfriend gets busted for running a grow op, she abandons her twelve year old daughter, Tara (Anna Sophia Robb) who ends up in child services. Not wanting to see his niece end up a ward of the state, James takes her on the lam, and ends up at a horse ranch owned by his abusive father (Dennis Hopper). Misery ensues...
Review: SLEEPWALKING is one pretty depressing film. Those looking for a little light entertainment need not apply. Usually I would not hesitate to recommend a film because it's depressing. Like all good art, films should reflect the world we live in, and like it or not- the world can be a mighty depressing place sometimes. We all have demons, and at some point in our lives we have to face them. For some, like the main character in this film, it may be an abusive childhood.
With SLEEPWALKING, first time director William Maher (not Bill Maher- the Politically Incorrect guy) had a chance to make an extremely powerful film about the effect an abusive childhood can have on someone when they try to start their own lives. Sadly, SLEEPWALKING is not a particularly powerful film- it's merely an oppressively boring and depressing one.
Where does SLEEPWALKING go wrong? For one, throughout the whole film I had a hard time empathizing with any of the characters- which is absolutely crucial in a film like this. I can't really blame the actors, as all of the performances are quite good. I've always thought Nick Stahl was one of the best actors of his generation, and he gives a solid performance here, even though he's not given much to work with. Dennis Hopper is also very good as the abusive father- although his role is very thinly written.
SLEEPWALKING is being sold as a Charlize Theron vehicle, even though she's only onscreen for about 20 minutes. She gives a solid supporting performance, although it would have been nice if they had made her look a little slightly less glamorous. She's supposed to be playing a woman who's been around the block a few times, and though out the film, Theron looks fresh as a daisy. She's proven in films like MONSTER that she's not afraid to make herself unattractive, but here she never looks anything less than stunning- which is a bad fit for a character that's supposed to be vulnerable and unloved.
This brings me to my other big problem with the film. The filmmakers seemed to be lacking the balls to make the film as hard hitting as it should be. Others have made gritty films on the subject of domestic abuse (Gary Oldman's under seen NIL BY MOUTH being one that stands out in my mind), and this film pales along side them. The last ten minutes of this film are absolutely atrocious. They try to tack on this ridiculously upbeat ending on a film which until that point had been relentlessly downbeat, and it does not fit at all. Imagine REQUIEM FOR A DREAM if at the end, Jared Leto kicked his heroin habit, saved his mother from her addiction to pills, and drove off into the sunset with Jennifer Connelly. How powerful would that have been?
Suffice to say, I did not enjoy SLEEPWALKING one bit. I spent the first ninety minutes of this film depressed, but at the same time wondering why I could not bring myself to care about any of the characters. Still, this was better than the last ten minutes of the film, which I spent cursing the filmmakers for shoving a stupid cotton candy, puppy dogs and Christmas happy ending down my throat which was so unconvincing that it was almost offensive.
Grade: 4/10 (Four points for the soild acting from Stahl & Hopper)