While You Were Sleeping

(Jon Turteltaub, USA, 1995)


I promised myself I would not use those increasingly hackneyed words romantic comedy when reviewing While You Were Sleeping, but it is just not possible. Here is a movie that lazily rakes over the plot devices and character types of romantic comedies old and new, from Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) to Moonstruck (1987) and, more recently, Only You (1994).

It is Christmas. Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a working class lonely-heart who pines for the suave businessman, Peter (Peter Gallagher), she spies each morning from her train ticket booth. Suddenly, she gets a chance to save Peter from an oncoming train, and then pretends to be his fiancée in order to watch over his comatose body in hospital. Trouble is, Peter's overbearingly nice family believes the lie and immediately claims Lucy as one of the tribe.

The film weaves this classic rom-com problem of dishonesty and its consequences with an equally classic love triangle. Should Lucy try to keep Peter, or go for his loveable, sensitive brother Jack (Bill Pullman)? Needling Lucy, as she mulls over this problem, are memories of her idealistic Dad, and dreams of true love in exotic foreign countries.

Sandra Bullock's immense charm and quietly clownish air carry this slight piece of romantic whimsy. It is almost as satisfying to see Bill Pullman in a more glamorous role than his usual, typecast boring-fiancé speciality. But Peter Gallagher – once he is out of the coma – plays his character as such a grating putz that it is hard to believe he belongs to this sweet, eccentric family.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, 1993), While You Were Sleeping is pedestrian fare. The soundtrack is a worry: not only does it include (like Nora Ephron's Mixed Nuts [1994]) a maddening stream of easy-listening Christmas standards, it also fills the non-dialogue scenes with a Wonder Years-style, unctuous voice-over narration that laboriously spells out every moral lesson of the script.

MORE Turtletaub: Instinct, Phenomenon

© Adrian Martin May 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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