DVD Release Date:  July 8, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  March 21, 2008
Rating:  R (for language, a scene of violence)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  100 min.
Director:  William Maher
Actors:  Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Hopper, Woody Harrelson

Unlike many actresses in Hollywood, Charlize Theron isn’t afraid to get ugly for a role. From her Oscar-winning turn as serial killer-prostitute Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster, to the role of a sexually harassed blue collar worker in 2005’s North Country, the de-glamming strategy has definitely worked in her favor.

Not only has she earned tons of critical props, but she’s not compromising her street cred by having to play a pretty damsel in distress in movie after movie, which can seriously impair an actress’s ability to get meatier roles in the future (think Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock).

In Sleepwalking, Theron’s character Joleen also looks worse for the wear. Not only does she find herself in a string of dead-end relationships, but her current live-in love has just gotten himself thrown in jail for growing weed in their backyard. And if that wasn’t enough to inspire all the lines on her forehead and bags under her eyes, Joleen doesn’t have much money or even a place for her and her 12-year old daughter Tara (an excellent AnnaSophia Robb) to live.

Providing a temporary solution to the problem, Joleen’s brother James (Nick Stahl) steps up and takes Joleen and Tara in, even though his situation isn’t much better. But things take a turn for the worse pretty quickly when Joleen up and boogies one day, with nothing more than a promise in a letter she leaves behind that she’ll be back for Tara’s birthday in about a month.

Of course, the news of her mom’s departure doesn’t exactly sit well with Tara. So after a brief stint in a foster home when James gets evicted from his place, she and James get away from it all. After exploring some of the more scenic places in California, they eventually end up at the home of Joleen’s and James’ abusive father, Mr. Reedy (Dennis Hopper)—a rundown farm where he expects James and Tara to work day and night in exchange for keeping quiet once the police have discovered that Tara is missing from the foster home.

Without giving much more away plot-wise, Sleepwalking has all the basic elements of most Lifetime made-for-TV movies without the camp factor and innate predictability that occasionally makes Lifetime fare a guilty pleasure. And as anyone who has sat through Sleepwalking knows, this flick would never be mistaken for a pleasure of any kind. The slow-moving story just keeps getting worse as the minutes tick right on by. Not only is the writing formulaic and ultimately forgettable, but the situations are so unbelievably horrible that even when redemption seems in sight, it never materializes. Instead, the main characters are consoled with a Hallmark-card message that isn’t even close to inspiring.

What ultimately saves the movie from completely being a total flop is superb acting. Not only is Theron great in another gritty role, but Robb, who also was terrific in last year’s Bridge to Terabithia, ends up stealing some of Theron’s thunder in a winning portrayal of a down-on-her-luck 12-year-old who knows there has to be more to life. And the way that she still loves her mom despite her flaws is truly memorable and continues to show the young actress’ range.

But even stellar acting can’t completely rescue this story. Now if there was more depth to the script than a by-the-numbers caricature of abuse and poverty, then Sleepwalking wouldn’t be nearly as yawn-inducing. Instead, it would be something worthy of another Oscar nomination for Theron and a tear-jerking tragedy that would connect with the audience.

Unfortunately, as it plays out, that simply isn’t the case.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Social drinking—in excess—pictured. Drugs are mentioned several times, and 12-year-old Tara is shown smoking in a scene.
  • Language/Profanity:  The language is the bulk of the reason for the film’s R rating. There are a constant stream of expletives, including the “F” word and instances of the Lord’s name taken in vain.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Joleen often confuses sex with love, and we see her getting busy with one of her dates, (while her daughter is in the next room), but nothing aside from passionate kissing is shown.
  • Violence:  Mr. Reedy has a problem with hitting his own son—physically and emotionally—and even Tara in one scene. SPOILER: In one particularly graphic act of violence, James kills Mr. Reedy after hitting him in the head repeatedly with a shovel.