Full of doleful glances and glum expressions, Sleepwalking conveys both a whole lot of wintry desolateness and the never-quite-fully-broken cycle of familial abuse that tends to keep a lot of families stuck in problematic situations, or at the very least a socioeconomic rut. Directed by William Maher (not Bill Maher, it must be stressed), from a screenplay by Zac Stanford (The Chumscrubber), Sleepwalking is not a perfect film, or even necessarily a devastatingly affecting one, but it is fairly well put together.
The film centers around an 11-year-old girl, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb, above left),
who’s abandoned by her pot-addled mother Jolene (Charlize Theron) and left with
her undependable uncle James (Nick Stahl), who ekes out a living as a
construction worker. James is unsure of what to do, but with $315, the pair set off on roadie to the old family farm in rural Utah. Returning home with swallowed,
silent expectations, James,
who has a sort of get-along-to-fit-in relationship with his
estranged, son-of-a-bitch father Reedy (Dennis Hopper), fibs and says that Tara is his daughter. He hopes this white lie will soothe things, and allow him to hit up his father for a bit of money. Unfortunately, Reedy is every bit as ornery as when James left, and he’s in no mood to display compassionate, be it as a father or grandfather.
Sleepwalking could just as easily be titled Unstated,
or something of that nature; it’s about what’s unsaid in families, and trying to
escape one’s past without even being able to articulate that journey,
or even perhaps fully realize it. A good bit of the firm, authentic
Midwestern feeling that accrues during its running time, though, melts
away during an act of late-film violence and the film’s pat conclusion
of uplift, which involves one character saying, “Today is the first day
of the rest of our lives.”
With her alligator boots, trashy demeanor
and knack for poor decision-making, Jolene could be a cousin of Amy Ryan’s
character from Gone Baby Gone.
Unfortunately, we don’t get quite enough of her to leave a lasting
impression, so the proxy battles that James and Reedy have about her
seem empty, or at least fraught with a lot less tension than they could
be. There’s a gritty realism to the film’s muted visual scheme that helps sell its relentlessly grim tone, much more than Stanford’s shruggingly vague screenplay. Still, this is fairly standard arthouse-potato drama — familial-discord genre stuff given a blue-collar, down-time Midwestern makeover.
Sleepwalking comes to DVD in a regular plastic Amray case, with an
accompanying cardboard slipcover. It’s presented in both 1.85:1 anamorphic
widescreen and full screen, with an English language Dolby 5.1
surround sound audio track. Bonus features consist only of a 16-minute making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews. A bit more from Stanford and Maher, especially about the look of the movie, would have been welcome. To purchase the movie on DVD via Amazon, click here. C+ (Movie) C+ (Disc)