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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Sleepwalking

MOVIE REVIEWS

SLEEPWALKING (2008)

Starring Nick Stahl, Charlize Theron, AnnaSophia Robb, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper, Deborra-Lee Furness Callum Keith Rennie, Amy Matysio, Shannon Jardine and Mathew St. Patrick.

Screenplay by Zac Standford.

Directed by William Maher.

Distributed by Overture Films.  101 minutes.  Rated R.

Sleepwalking

The new indie drama Sleepwalking is neither as artistic nor as insightful as it would like to think it is, however, it is an intriguing if occasionally melodramatic look at the problems of broken down and desperately poor people in the world. 

It’s hard to dislike because it obviously is made with great love and good intentions.  You just wish the actual film was a little better. 

The film starts with Charlize Theron playing – very well, granted – one of her slumming disturbing lower-class women.  Joleen is an aging beauty who is thrown out of her home when the latest of a long line of boyfriends is arrested for growing drugs.  She is lectured by a stern, but actually concerned cop (played by an uncredited Mathew St. Patrick of Six Feet Under) that she has to straighten up her life for her sake and that of her child. 

With nowhere else to go, Joleen takes her eleven-year-old daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb of Bridge to Terabithia) and decides to stay in the decrepit apartment of her brother James (Nick Stahl of Terminator 3).  He is a shy, repressed, broken-down construction worker.  Within a matter of days Joleen disappears without a word – apparently with another one of her guys – leaving Tara to live with James, who has very little money and absolutely no experience with children. 

When James loses his job and home, Tara is sent to a foster home.  Eventually the two go on the lam, pretending to be father and daughter while taking a long road trip to the farm where James and Joleen grew up. 

The movie is presented as the story of James.  However, while he is a pivotal character, the film really revolves around Tara. 

Therefore, it is important that they found such a good young actress as Robb to play the role.  A girl who has previously been mostly in fantasy films, she shows amazing range in this almost disturbingly realistic film.  Robb captures the resignation and resentment of a little girl who is forced by circumstance to grow up long before her time.  She even does a surprisingly adult and whimsical fantasy sequence as a cigarette-puffing dreamgirl at a motel pool. 

When James and Tara finally reach the old farmhouse where James grew up and meet his father, we come to realize a lot of the reason why the brother and sister are so badly damaged.  Dennis Hopper is terrific in the role – a mean old viper of a man who will do anything to break his charges – and yet the character is so unlikable you have to wonder about the sanity and fitness of James.  In introducing Tara into that environment, he seems to be even more unfit to be a parent as Joleen. 

The script skirts over several of these obvious plot holes – for example why does James keep apologizing to Tara for her mother not being home for her birthday as Joleen had promised – when James and Tara have moved and even if Joleen were to return she would have no way to reach them and they would have no way to know whether or not she had been there. 

Even more importantly, it was a significant plotting error not to show us anything that Joleen was experiencing while she was gone.  I know the film was trying to focus on the growing relationship between the uncle and niece.  However, by making her just disappear for a huge chunk of the film, when Joleen eventually does show back up – desperately searching for her daughter – it is harder to buy.  The audience (or Family Services, for that matter) can't help but find it hard to overlook the fact she just abandoned the girl and believe that Joleen is suddenly a fit and loving mother. 

Sleepwalking is a film which has some amazing acting, beautiful scenery and some wonderfully surreal moments.  Too bad it is all at service of a somewhat flawed screenplay.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 10, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 10, 2008.

 

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