James Reedy (Nick Stahl, "In the Bedroom," "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines") doesn't have much, but when his older sister calls needing help after her boyfriend's busted for growing weed, he'll find he has even less after she ups and leaves him with her junior high aged daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb, "Bridge to Terabithia," "The Reaping"). Although he's not capable of caring for her, he finds she awakens a sense of purpose for him and that up until her arrival, he'd only been "Sleepwalking."
Dennis Hopper just co-starred with Rainn Wilson in a parody of indie movie cliches for the Independent Spirit Awards broadcast, and, as it turns out, several scenes from his latest movie could have been included. Although it boasts an otherwise fine cast, debuting director Bill Maher and his screenwriting colleague from "The Chumbscrubber" have delivered an earnest film that fails to flesh out its characters and doesn't earn its resolutions.
James lives in a crummy walkup in a deserted part of town and commutes to his municipal labor job with a bicycle. He's got one friend, Randall (Woody Harrelson, "Semi-Pro"), although they seem to have little in common except beer drinking. Older coworker Danni (Deborra-Lee Furness, "Jindabyne") takes a maternal interest that veers on sexual.
After Joleen (Charlize Theron, "Monster," "In the Valley of Elah") leaves Tara, promising to return by her daughter's birthday via letter and leaving her junkbox of a car, James's work becomes even more erratic and he loses his job, then loses Tara to Social Services and his home to unpaid rent. Tara's birthday comes but Ma doesn't and she informs James she is not returning to the home where the other girls steal her possessions. Embarrassed to show Tara he lives in Randall's unfinished basement, he offers her a fantasy - hit the road and go wherever she wants. But the $300 James has left won't get them to her chosen destination, so he takes the only route he can think of - back home to the ranch and the sadistic father Joleen and he escaped many years before.
"Sleepwalking" is an earnest film whose characters all play their note with little evolutionary background. Joleen is a mess of a mother who nonetheless would have us believe she loves her daughter even as she abandons her (for what? It is never clear? Has she left with her one night stand of a tow truck driver?). Tara is a beautiful young girl whose life experiences haven't apparently given her any real behavioral problems, except to be awfully demanding. Her budding sexuality is noted by one sequence at a motel courtyard pool that plays as utter fantasy then is handed to us as reality. James is a pushover with puppy dog eyes whose only motivation in life seems to be to please his niece. His dad, Mr. Reedy (Dennis Hopper, "Apocalypse Now," "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead") is an unrelenting sadist. The Detective who arrested Joleen's boyfriend Warren is exasperated with her but always there to help out any member of the family any way he can. James becomes something of a sacrificial angel at film's end for no discernible reason. Every setting, excepting that motel pool which is far too nice to belong to any motel James and Tara have stopped at, is old, rundown and bleak. And there's a very bloody stillborn calf.
"Sleepwalking" is a slice of depressing Americana that, while isn't exactly boring too watch, leaves its audience wondering why it bothered.
Robin did not see this film.
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