Entertainment Weekly stole my lead.
I was all set to compare Sandra Bullock’s performance in “While You Were Sleeping” to Julia Roberts’ starmaking turn in “Pretty Woman.’ Then I picked up EW’s April 21 edition and spotted the headline: “The Next Julia Roberts.”
And right there on page 6, next to photographs of Julianne Moore (“Vanya on 42nd”) and Julia Ormond (“Legends of the Fall”), was a cleavage-heavy likeness of Bullock (“Demolition Man,” “Speed”).
But after a minute or so of disappointment, I recovered. Hey, I thought, do great minds think alike, or what?
If you’ve seen either of Bullock’s two previous big-budget actionadventures (she also appeared in the little-seen “Wrestling Ernest Hemingway”), you might wonder about the sanity of anyone predicting big stardom for an actress who, until now, has been little more than the token female.
Sure, she looked nice in both, and she even displayed some gritty vulnerability in her “Speed” scenes with Keanu Reeves. But the next Julia Roberts? Cue the laugh track.
All of which makes “While You Were Sleeping” such a pleasant surprise. In this light comedy/ romance that continually flirts between being sappy and sweet, Bullock’s performance as a lonely token-taker for the Chicago Transit Authority keeps things nicely on track.
She doesn’t do it alone, of course. Director Jon Turteltaub benefits also from the likes of Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Jack Warden, Peter Boyle and Glynis Johns. Still, Bullock is the straw that stirs the drink.
She portrays Lucy Moderatz, a lonely young woman who dreams of faraway places but who seems doomed to spend her life in a ticket booth watching as others rush by. Things begin to change one day when a regular rider of Chicago’s elevated train - a handsome man, Peter, (Gallagher) whom Lucy has admired from afar - falls (or is pushed) onto the tracks and is knocked unconscious.
Lucy pulls him to safety. And later in the hospital, where now Peter lingers in a coma, she becomes the focus of a big misunderstanding: Through a simple miscommunication, Peter’s family comes to believe that she is his fiancee.
Caught between her need to protect the feelings of this accepting group and her own need to be part of a family unit, she plays along. Things get a bit complex when she meets Peter’s brother, Jack (Pullman), and gradually begins to fall in love with him.
And then Peter wakes up.
Director Turteltaub’s previous work (“Three Ninjas,” “Cool Runnings”) has shown little subtlety. And the essential ridiculousness of the plot dreamed up by Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum might have been no better.
But in the same way a concoction of unlikely ingredients sometimes makes good soup, Turteltaub’s blending of veteran and new acting talent with romantic fantasy works wonders here. Warden and Boyle provide mature presences, and Johns spouts most of the good lines. Michael Rispoli is Joe Jr., a strutting mess of a junior landlord, yet other than Lucy, he may be the most innocent of all.
Pullman, who in film after film (from “Sleepless in Seattle” to “Sommersby”) has played the guy who loses the girl, finally emerges as a full-fledged leading man here. He is virtue to the perfectly cast Gallagher’s Narcissus.
But it is Bullock who is the focus, and she proves up to the task. Whether bandying lines with Raspoli’s lecher wannabe - “Doesn’t anybody use the phone anymore?” Lucy asks. “I do,” says Joe Jr. “I’m not talking about 900 numbers,” Lucy answers - or revealing her innermost desires to a sleeping Peter, Bullock makes Lucy both believable and lovable.
“While You Were Sleeping” may not be a film for the ages. It likely won’t even rank among the presummer season’s biggest hits.
But it is worth noting, for it may mark the birth of a star.
Entertainment Weekly says so.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “While You Were Sleeping” *** Location: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Jon Turteltaub, starring Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Jack Warden, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle, Glynis Johns and Michael Raspoli. Running time: 100 minutes Rated: PG
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