I avoided watching this one for a while because I was convinced I’d hate it. The concept is creepy to me. I’ll accept a horror movie where a woman claims to be a man’s fiancée and gaslights him and his family into accepting her. But a romance?
Turns out I was all wrong. A potentially ooky situation is played with such a deft, airy hand that it never gets weird. “Sleeping” shows how integral every element of a production is to setting the tone. Expressive music ranges from goofy slapstick to heartfelt, actors play situations lightly, Chicago is filmed with warmth like it’s a dream, and a few smart plot choices keep us on the heroine’s team.
This toes the line between Funny Enough To Not Take Seriously and Earnest Enough to Care. It does it really well.
As with many of my other favorite romances, Sandra Bullock’s character falls in love with the hero’s family first. She basically says herself toward the end that the whole romance here is between a very lonely, very sweet Bullock and the family she wished she could join. Gosh, who can’t sympathize with that?
I just watched My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Julia Roberts’s motivations weren’t sympathetic enough. We got a couple glances at insecurity and her humanity. But it wasn’t enough, especially when she had such a support system and was happy to use people. Bullock’s motivations are painted so sympathetically that you might actually be okay with her marriage to the coma dude after he wakes up and seems okay with it too.
Bullock’s secret becoming revealed to one of the elder family friends early on makes it so she has an adorable co-conspirator and also a plausible reason for continuing to lie. As a writer, I was kinda jealous of how smart that is. I’m not jealous anymore because I’m definitely doing that in a book later. (Hey, like they say, great artists steal.)
It takes a while for hero Bill Pullman to actually show up in the movie, and I barely remember a thing about him. The chemistry is very good. I understand a lot of people really love him as a character, but the romance didn’t do much for me. It speaks volumes that the rest of it was nice enough to keep me on the line.
When it comes to comfort movies, this one is so comfortable, I could imagine using it to drift off to sleep every night before bed. While You Were Sleeping indeed.
I do think it’s amazing how recognizable Pullman’s floppy hair is. If you want to talk about things that typify 1995, I’d put Pullman’s floppy hair on the list. And shout out to While You Were Sleeping for daring to spend so much time around working class people, which a lot of romcoms have zero interest in doing.
(image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)