SLEEPWALKING is like two movies. The first half leads viewers to think one way while the second half turns that thinking upside down, revealing the truth of the story’s plot problem and its solution. This revelation, however, unveils the movie’s worldview and ultimate message, which is a Romantic, Non-Christian one with little or no real redemptive qualities.
The movie features Charlize Theron as Jolene Reedy, an irresponsible, foul-mouthed single mother with an 11-year-old daughter, Tara, played by AnnaSophia Robb of BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE. The story opens in the dead of winter with Jolene and Tara being thrown out of the house where they live because Jolene’s boyfriend has been arrested for growing and selling marijuana.
With nowhere else to go, Jolene and Tara show up at Jolene’s younger brother’s decrepit apartment. James is a timid road worker who always seems to be apologizing to people, who easily boss him.
After a one-night stand with some trucker she meets, Jolene skips out on Tara with this man, but promises in a letter that she will be back in one month on Tara’s birthday. Of course, Jolene doesn’t return when she promised. Also, taking care of Tara proves too much for James, who loses his job. At the same time, the detective in charge of the drug bust comes in with a social worker, and they remove Tara to a foster care facility.
James has to leave his apartment but is taken in by Randall, a goofy buddy from work, played by Woody Harrelson in a bright cameo. After a few days, James visits Tara in the foster care facility. James discovers that Tara is miserable, so he doesn’t return her that evening. Instead, they drive away in the car that Jolene left behind. Change my name to Nicole, Tara tells him, and pretend you’re my father. James agrees.
With no place to go and dwindling funds, James takes Tara to his father’s farm, from which he and Jolene escaped years before. His father, however, is a very mean man (played by an invigorated Dennis Hopper), who drove Jolene and James away so long ago. James finds himself falling back into his former subservient manner toward his brutal, angry father, and the paternal source of James and Jolene’s problems becomes abundantly clear. Now, however, Tara also is feeling the old man’s wrath.
SLEEPWALKING is an engrossing, but sad, drama. Though well acted, it would have been better if the story had stayed with the friendship between James and Randall. There is also an interesting, possibly budding romance between James and an older woman from his job that’s left hanging.
The first half of the movie clearly makes Jolene the villain, but when viewers meet James and Jolene’s father, it becomes clear that the real villain is their mean old father. In that way, the movie presents a Romantic worldview of the family where the founder of the family, the father, is the villain who makes the innocent children, James and Jolene, behave in such self-destructive ways. In the end, only by rebelling completely and violently against the dark father can James take control of his life and free Jolene and Tara. It’s all up to James.
One of the movie’s few redemptive aspects is the bond that develops between James and his young niece. For the first time, James is responsible for caring about another, weaker person. Regrettably, however, James is in over his head, and his responsibility ultimately leads to defiance of authority and violence. In other words, God is not the answer to James, Jolene and Tara’s problems. Also, the change of heart that strikes Jolene in the movie’s third act doesn’t match the carelessness she displays in the first act. That’s probably because, instead of a God-centered Christian worldview based on the Bible, the filmmakers have a liberal Romantic worldview based on feelings and emotions rather than logic, facts and intellect. Consequently, the core of this movie reveals an abhorrent sickness lurking underneath its seemingly innocent surface.
Ultimately, most moviegoers, especially non-liberal ones, will find that SLEEPWALKING is not as compelling as it could have been. The movie also includes plenty of strong, gratuitous foul language and a few other vulgarities. With significant changes, this could have been a PG-13 movie, or even a PG drama, but the artists’ Romantic, unbiblical sensibilities lead them astray.
(RoRoRo, B, LLL, VV, S, AA, DD, MM) Very strong Romantic worldview where complete violent rebellion against a cruel authority (a brutal, uncaring, mean father), and not redemption through God, is the answer to a family’s problems, plus man takes care of his abandoned niece but he’s in over his head; 40 obscenities (including many “f” and “s” words), seven strong profanities and seven light profanities; strong violence includes hitting a child, threats of violence and murder, and man killed with a shovel; implied fornication when woman leads man who was on top of her on a table into her bedroom; no nudity; alcohol use and drunkenness; smoking and minor character arrested for growing and selling marijuana; and, lying, evading authorities, mother abandons 11-year-old daughter, and very abusive older father.
SLEEPWALKING is an independent drama about a young man named James who must take care of his 11-year-old niece, Tara, when her mother, Jolene, runs off with a man. Jolene promises to be back on Tara’s birthday, but she doesn’t show. Meanwhile, James, a timid, apologetic man who is subservient, loses his job, and social workers put Tara into a foster care facility. James discovers that Tara is miserable, so he takes her away to his father’s farm, from which he and Jolene escaped years before. His father is a very mean man. He is also the reason James and Jolene behave so self-destructively. Only by rebelling completely against the dark father can James take control of his life and free Jolene and Tara.
SLEEPWALKING is like two movies. The first half clearly makes Jolene the villain, but the second half shows that the vicious old father is the real villain. In that way, the movie presents a Romantic worldview of the family, where the founder of the family corrupts the innocent children. The solution to this problem is not God, but complete rebellion against the evil authority figure.