Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Latent Review: While You Were Sleeping

One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1995 romantic comedy "While You Were Sleeping," starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. I've loved Bill Pullman with my whole heart, ever since he played Denton in my actual favorite movie of all time, "Newsies." His rousing speech as President Whitmore in "Independence Day" gives me chills every time. And Sandra Bullock, one of the few actresses truly worthy of the term "America's Sweetheart," is never more charming than in this sweet little 90s rom-com. With its themes of unrequited love, mistaken identity, the chaos of family at Christmastime, and life not turning out as you planned, "While You Were Sleeping" packs quite a bit into 103 minutes. If Hitchcock were to direct a chick flick, I like to think this would be it.

While this film seems like a lot of other formulaic romantic comedies, (girl meets boy, girl saves boy's life but he falls into a coma, girl meets boy's brother, girl falls in love with him instead) it's actually fairly original in one crucial aspect. Our heroine, Lucy Moderatz, is strikingly different from today's female romantic leads. In every Jennifer Lopez/Kristen Bell/Katherine Heigl/Kate Hudson movie (really, they're interchangeable even though I confess I watch and love quite a few of them), the protagonist is a hard-working career-girl who isn't interested in love until a slovenly but endearing lothario teaches them to relax, open up, and love. Usually I believe, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But this same character over and over is getting redundant and pointless. Stop assuming that female audiences find any other personality type unfathomable, unrelatable, and unlikeable. That last description is particularly absurd since most of these characters are the epitome of unlikeability.

What makes Lucy Moderatz special is that she doesn't have her act together. She lives alone with her cat (in one uncomfortable scene she even dips an oreo into the cat's dish and eats it. blech.) She has a somewhat demeaning job working for the Chicago Transit Authority. She has no family, and it seems only one friend (the admittedly somewhat token sassy black co-worker who could use some more screen time). Essentially, Lucy is a harmless stalker, pining for Peter Gallagher's character in his double-breasted pinstripe suits, from the safety of her toll booth. Honestly, if Sandra Bullock wasn't so adorable, even in her less-conventionally attractive early 90s phase, Lucy would be kind of creepy when she accidentally infiltrates the Callaghan family.

The fact that she doesn't have a whole lot going for her, other than a sparkling personality, memories of her father, and dreams of Florence, makes Lucy so much more endearing than the shrewish, anal retentive snobs of today's chick flick. She not only lands two fiances, granted one is comatose for most of the movie, but she also gains the love and comfort of a real, loving and wacky family. The audience shares her joy when all of her dreams come true at once. Jack (Bill Pullman), proposes to her in her tollbooth in front of the whole family, and whisks her away on a Florence honeymoon. Cue the 'aw' moment and overused "This Will Be" motown rom-com anthem.

In today's climate, and real life in general, many women don't have their act together. Yes, we're focused on our careers, but they're probably not going so well at this point. Tripping every so often, dropping stacks of paper, spilling coffee on suits real people in that situation could never afford, or bumping into attractive men with conflicting personalities, that doesn't make a heroine flawed and real. Lucy has real problems. She doesn't need to make a pratfall for us root for her.

Speaking of pratfalls though, "While You Were Sleeping" does contain the greatest one since the Three Stooges. I'm speaking of the hilariously random paper boy who totally biffs it on the icy sidewalk. Glorious. I don't know what it's doing in the movie, but it may be my favorite part.


  1. While You Were Sleeping is *the* movie that made me fall in love with Bill Pullman... which unfortunately led me to watch Mr. Wrong ^^lll

  2. Ouch, Mr. Wrong is truly terrible. And it's not just because I have a hard time wrapping my head around Ellen as the lead in a hetero romantic comedy. I also did not buy the square, vanilla Bill Pullman as a raving lunatic. Not a terrible concept, but wretched execution.