While You Were Sleeping (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

While it's true that making good romantic comedies is still something of an art, producing average films of the genre has become a science. Take a little chemistry, a portion of physics, some basic biology, and mix them together according to a well-understood formula, and you have a result guaranteed to give audiences everywhere that mushy, feel-good sensation they crave. While You Were Sleeping movie likely to appeal to the Sleepless in Seattle crowd, is a perfect example of this unoriginal-but-enjoyable type of film making.

The story opens with a voiceover as the camera gives us the sights of modern-day Chicago. We are introduced to our narrator, Lucy (Sandra Bullock), a token collector for the local transit company. After explaining that life never turns out as you expect, she tells us about this guy (Peter Gallagher) that she's had her eye on for the past three months. Since mid-September, he's arrived at her booth every weekday morning between 8:01 and 8:15, brightening her day with a smile. She wants to marry him, even though she doesn't know anything about him.

Then, on Christmas day, fate intercedes. As the object of Lucy's romantic fantasies waits on the platform, a pair of muggers confront him. He loses his balance and ends up unconscious on the tracks in the path of an approaching train. Lucy takes action, saving his life. She then accompanies him to the hospital and, when a nurse overhears her murmuring something wishful about marrying the man, the misunderstandings begin. Suddenly, the patient's entire family is convinced that their son Peter's rescuer is also his fiancee. Everyone, that is, except brother Jack (Bill Pullman), who sees Lucy not as Peter's type, but as his own.

While You Were Sleeping is a pleasant movie that looks like it was originally designed for a Christmas release. Considering 1994's pathetic holiday fare (Mixed Nuts, Trapped in Paradise), it would have been welcome. Nevertheless, no love story is confined by a time of year, and this one works nearly as well in April as in December. After all, people fall in love during all seasons.

The story has a little more depth than the usual romantic drivel. Lucy is a very lonely woman, and her loneliness is set up as the motivation for her becoming a party to the central deception. She pretends to be Peter's fiancee not because she really expects to marry him, but because she has no family, and the parents and siblings of her supposed husband-to-be are delighted to take her into their fold. In her own words, all she has to come home to is "a cat, an apartment, and sole possession of the remote control... just no one to laugh with."

The love story between Lucy and Jack starts late (the male half of the pair doesn't make his first appearance until 30 minutes into the film) and is only sketchily developed. The relationship is warm but not especially passionate. There certainly aren't any sparks, and physical contact is limited to a kiss under the mistletoe. It's easy to accept Lucy and Jack as best friends; but more difficult to see them as lovers. In some ways, this restrained view of love and sex is a throwback to Hollywood's early era.

Sandra Bullock (Speed) is an amazingly engaging performer. Though not the best actress of her generation, she has a winning smile and a variety of noteworthy expressions. She's perhaps at her best looking bewildered, and this movie gives her plenty of opportunities to do that. Bill Pullman is equally likeable, and it's refreshing to see him finally get the girl (he was the sap who gave up Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle). The supporting cast is okay, although everyone appears a little too cheerful for a family whose son is in a coma.

While You Were Sleeping has its share of nice moments, none of which are especially memorable. The plot runs out of steam just past the one-hour mark and the charade, although necessary to the story, goes on for too long. The ending is, of course, the requisite happy one, but it seems a little anticlimactic. And we definitely don't need Bullock's narration to supply us with the meaning of the title. All-in-all, While You Were Sleeping delivers what it advertises: no surprises, but a load of warm feelings.

While You Were Sleeping (United States, 1995)

Director: Jon Turtletaub
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle, Glynis Johns, Jack Warden, Monica Keena
Screenplay: Fred Lebow and Dan Sullivan
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael
Music: Randy Edelman
U.S. Distributor: Hollywood Pictures
Run Time: 1:43
U.S. Release Date: 1995-04-21
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1