Sandra Bullock is Lucy, a lonely subway worker, she becomes smitten with a handsome stranger. But when she saves his life after he’s been mugged and fallen into a coma, his hilariously offbeat family mistakes her for his fiancée! Soon the mix-ups escalate as Lucy fabricates a life between herself and a man she’s never met! And when Lucy falls for his charming brother the situation really gets uproarious-as she’s forced to make a choice between the two!
eyelights: Sandra Bullock. the quirky supporting cast. the humour.
eyesore: the borderline plot contrivances. the sappy romantic fluff. some of the direction.
“Have you ever fallen in love with someone you haven’t even talked to? Have you ever been so alone you spend the night confusing a man in a coma?”
‘When You Were Sleeping’ is a 1995 romantic comedy that tells the story of Lucy, a young woman who saves a man’s life and then is mistaken by the now-comatose man’s family as his fiancé. Completely overwhelmed by them, she finds herself unable to correct them in their belief and ends up playing along.
Unsure how to handle the situation, she frequently gets advice from her closest friend, her boss, who is shocked with what’s going on. Meanwhile, further complicating matters, the man’s true fiancé is returning from a trip abroad, and Lucy falls in love with his brother, a down-to-earth furniture maker.
Amusingly enough, the original script was conceived with a reversal of the roles, which would likely have made the male protagonist come off all stalker-like, infiltrating a stranger’s family like that. Thankfully, someone pointed this problem out and the script was re-written from a woman’s perspective.
Following Sandra Bullock’s breakthrough with ‘Speed’, ‘While you Were Sleeping’ cemented her appeal as an endearing girl-next-door type. The film was a huge success, making over 10 times its original budget at the box office! It would be the start of a long-running love affair between the public and Bullock.
I’m not a big Sandra Bullock fan. I find many of her films far too saccharine and/or poorly-written to watch. There was also a string of them during the late ’90s-early ’00s when she always had a small musical moment in it (gag me with a spoon!). And I don’t really like her acting style all that much.
And yet I really like ‘While You Were Sleeping’ and have watched it countless times. I enjoyed the basic conceit, how it came together, loved the cast, the characters and got a real kick out of the dialogues. It’s been one of those rare go-to romantic comedies for me – especially during the holiday season.
I hadn’t seen it in a few years, so this time I was pleasantly surprised by Bullock’s performance. I was reminded of why she had won me over in the first place: she plays a lonely, timid, neurotic young woman who’s down on her luck and sees a small slice of happiness; she truly is endearing here.
Oh, sure, there’s the small matter of her allowing things to get out of hand with the Callaghans which is disconcerting. It’s hard to relate to and get attached to a character who would be dishonest in such a way. But, as far contrivances go, the ones in ‘While You Were Sleeping’ are mostly acceptable.
Given the circumstances, Lucy is totally incapable of getting a word in edge-wise with them at first; it would be hard for most anyone, short of being rude. The one place where she really crosses the line for me is when she is given Peter’s things to take home and she doesn’t just give them to the family. That was a very poor choice.
Of course, by then she depends on a family friend to explain things to them. Having overheard her talking to the comatose Peter, he is aware of her situation and promises her that he will handle it. Except that he doesn’t exactly follow through on his promise: he is neither diligent nor direct in his approach.
I think that the plot device of the comatose man was superb, in that characters spoke to him, thereby speaking their minds out loud and giving audiences much-needed background information about themselves or him. This reduced awkward exposition to a bare minimum and made the characters somewhat three-dimensional.
I really enjoyed the cast. For starters, I was surprised by just how good Bullock’s comedic acting chops were here. I’ve come to dislike her so much that I had forgotten how great her timing is here; she had every inflection and gesture down, coming off a little bit like a toned down Woody Allen. I was rather impressed, actually.
Originally, the film was offered to Julia Roberts. And while I can see how she would have done a good job of playing the girl-next-door type, I’m not so sure if she would have pulled of the comedy as well. Sandra Bullock is lucky that Roberts didn’t take it, because her career would otherwise have taken a very different turn.
The rest of the cast is all quite good, too – for a romantic comedy. The family are erratic but appealing, and Jack Warden is terrific as Saul, the family friend. I even liked Bill Pullman, who often can be grating; he played it closer to his chest here, which was nice. As for Peter Gallagher as the coma patient… he was perfect for the part.
One of my favourites was Michael Rispoli as Joe Fusco Jr., the slightly challenged son of Lucy’s landlord. A stereotypical macho, he has neither the intelligence nor the ability to get through life, yet can’t help but hit on Lucy and boast of his many fictitious achievements. He could have been annoying, but Rispoli made him hilarious and sympathetic.
Where ‘While You Were Sleeping’ film falls down is in Jon Turteltaub’s direction, in that many of the set-ups were weak, spoiling the moments and the comedy. The picture is also saddled with a much-dated soundtrack courtesy of Randy Edelman; you couldn’t possibly get a more generic, cheesy ’90s rom-com score than this.
But, otherwise, ‘While You Were Sleeping’ holds up nicely. It may not be a classic and it hasn’t aged as well as one might’ve hoped, but it’s a pretty decent picture. As far as romantic comedies go, one could do way worse, and it’s one of the few that I would feel comfortable recommending.
Someone once asked me when we fell in love with Sandra Bullock. And I told him, it was in “While You Were Sleeping.”
Date of viewing: December 23, 2013