Writer "B" tries frantically to wring laughs from small silly jokes and contrived situations that quickly become labored--a sure death rattle in a romantic comedy.
"While You Were Sleeping" opens this week on the wings of a promotional campaign that heralds it as this year's romantic comedy hit. This assumption founders in the hands of people so intent on recreating "Sleepless in Seattle" that they forgot that only a subtle mix of ingredients can produce magic.
Getting at least part of it right, they cast Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher in the lead roles. But then they forgot to hire Nora Ephron to write the script. The movie sinks into its own flimsy contrivances, in spite of prodigious efforts to bring it to life with visual tricks. Lacking good writing, the plot is propelled by little else than the force of the personality of the principals, which is considerable.
The plot: after the loss of the father she loved dearly, Lucy (Sandra Bullock) finds her way to the loneliness of life in Chicago, where she has "a cat, an apartment, and sole possession of the remote control." Her life is defined by her job as a token collector at the el and a nodding acquaintance with a couple of coworkers.
Up to this point, the movie tugs the heartstrings nicely because Sandra Bullock's quirky vulnerability allows her to paint a rich character. We want to send a hug of reassurance to the dark-haired waif wrapped in her dad's great big overcoat--a slim, fragile column topped by a gray watch cap and a dark scarf. Her love for her father and her longing for someone to laugh with is all wrapped up in that coat, on a freezing platform of the Chicago el.
Things get even better as Lucy falls in love with the darkly handsome professional who buys his token from her each day without a word. In the split second that she saves his life in a mugging, the film offers its greatest promise and then loses its charm abruptly as the writers shift from fairy tale to sitcom.
Prince Charming, it turns out, is Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher), who spends most of the movie hospitalized in a coma, while his large family--through a series of misinterpretations-- accepts Lucy as his fiancee. This family of screwballs folds Lucy into their chaos and fills in the blanks of her lonely life. While lucky Peter sleeps through the confusion, Lucy falls in love with Peter's brother, Jack.
A genuine sweetness envelopes the romance of Lucy and Peter, a feel that it was written by scriptwriter "A." Writer "B," meanwhile, tries frantically to wring laughs from small silly jokes and contrived situations that quickly become labored--a sure death rattle in a romantic comedy.
If it could be said that this movie is saved, and it can't, it would be by the light warmth that Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock bring to their roles. They are two fine talents in search of a lighthearted script. Sadly for them, there is no breeze in this heavy air.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Buena Vista
Rating : PG
Running Time: 1h43m
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