Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
Despite the good intentions of the sometimes moving Sleepwalking, it tries to cram too much strife into its modest indie frame. The result is generic, meandering and cold.
Speaking of cold, the film is also set in a small, snowy town that I discovered is actually Regina and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The setting matches the mood – dank and depressing – but such is life for the characters here. Charlize Theron, once again concealing her beauty inside a role, plays the single mom of an 11-year-old girl. Her daughter has already had a pretty tough, unstable life at her young age, and it doesn’t help that mom is involved with a guy who has just been jailed for growing marijuana.
Nick Stahl plays Theron's gentle and passive brother who ends up taking them both in after the police tear apart their house. The movie's focus shifts to Stahl at this point, as Theron disappears and Stahl winds up fighting with social services to keep her daughter. Eventually the two of them wind up at his father's farm with nothing but $300 to their name.
All of this sounds like perfectly respectable dramatic fare, so what's the problem? The main issue is the movie's lack of a point of view. At first it's a mother-daughter movie, then it's an uncle-niece movie, and then it turns into a father-son movie. Oh, there’s a road movie in there, too.
None of this would be a problem if we actually liked the characters, or if the movie could find a rhythm. Unfortunately, neither of these things happens. Instead we get head-scratchers like a fantasy/dream sequence that shows Theron's daughter having a smoke next to a pool while two boys in a hot tub look on. Keep in mind that we never see this character asleep and dreaming or fantasizing about this more pleasant alternate reality. The filmmakers just spring it on us without warning. It all feels rushed and too tightly packed. I wish the filmmakers had just picked one storyline and stuck to it.
Oh, on the farm, guess who plays Nick Stahl's father? Good old Dennis Hopper, who brings his usual edge to the performance, but as we watch him put his son and granddaughter to work, we know what's coming, and when it happens, it's just as cheap, predictable and overwrought as we fear. The climax of Sleepwalking employs a common “out” for a filmmaker who hasn’t shown us anything new and thinks they need to end with an exclamation point.
Sleepwalking is not without merit. Like I said, the performances are strong – especially by the young AnnaSophia Robb, who has to play a girl old before her years. Stahl also does a good job as the timid yet well-meaning James, who learns a tough lesson about the downfalls of being a passive observer in life. Theron, who leaves the film too quickly – did she have another engagement? – is immensely moving in the few scenes she has. The director, William Maher also shows some promise as he’s able to wring some real emotion out of an otherwise unfocused script. Somewhere in Sleepwalking there's a powerful story to be told.
Too bad the filmmakers couldn't find it.