While You Were Sleeping is a 1995 romantic comedy directed by Jon Turtletaub, and written by Daniel G. Sullivan and Frederic Lubow. It stars Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, Peter Gallagher, Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, and Glynis Johns. It is one of my favorite films ever. It’s not so much because of the romance part, but because it’s a sweet and endearing movie about a lonely woman who finds a loving family. The winter setting in Chicago makes the film feel warm and homey, a busy city in Middle America, with honest and kind folk from Midwestern towns.
Sandra Bullock is wonderful in this film. Lucy is a lonely transit worker who lives alone with her cat, and doesn’t have any immediate family. She has a crush on a handsome man, Peter (Peter Gallagher), who commutes to work every day, and admires him from afar, as she has never spoken with him. On Christmas day, she saves him when he gets pushed onto the train tracks by muggers and hits his head, falling unconscious. At the hospital, he is in a coma, and through a misunderstanding, she is believed to be his fiancée. Lucy meets his family, who are loud, boisterous, bickering yet loving people, and Lucy knows the truth would hurt them, as they haven’t heard from their son in ages, so she pretends to be Peter’s fiancée. And as she gets to know them and they accept her, she feels blessed and joyful to have a family, and to share her life with people.
Lucy’s actions could make her seem like a crazy person or con artist in real life, and it would be a lot less appealing. But Bullock’s kind and sympathetic portrayal made her likable, charming, and relatable. You just want to see good things happen to her, even as she is caught in this deception and confusion.
A wonderful actor in this film is Bill Pullman. Jack is cynical of Lucy’s claim to be Peter’s fiancée, but is still kind-hearted, and charmed by her imperfections. Pullman, for years before this role, had played men who had been jilted by their lovers, dumped, rejected in love, or cheated on. This film broke that streak, giving him the opportunity to play someone who gets lucky in love. Pullman plays Jack with warm, a lived-in comfort. He is a nice, normal, average guy who works in the family business of buying and selling furniture from estates, but really wants to branch out and build furniture for a living. He is an all-around good guy, and not perfect, just nice.
The family are often talking over each other in their scenes, and the actors have great chemistry together, they really do seem like a real family, with history and memories. There is a particularly funny scene where there are two conversations going on at once at the dinner table: compliments about the food, and comparing the heights of tall movie actors. It’s just dinner table talk, but meshes well together, as it is the way a family talks at dinner with love and togetherness.
Another standout performer in this film is Michael Rispoli, who plays Joe, Jr., the son of Lucy’s landlord. He acts like a stereotypical Italian-American guy, and is frequently hitting on Lucy and often fails in his pursuit. Yet he isn’t portrayed as a predator or as a creep, more of a misguided guy who cannot say the right thing to women. Rispoli’s characterization was spot-on, and his mannerisms (clicking his tongue, smoothing his hair, pounding his fist, Italian-style hand gestures) were hilarious. He is meant to be comic relief, and while it is a stereotypical portrayal, Rispoli’s attention to detail in small, telling gestures was fantastic.
The film is a beautiful gem. It is a romantic comedy that isn’t cloying or annoying, and has likable and relatable characters in it. Chicago looks very inviting and close-knit, and you just want good things for the characters in the film. It’s just a wonderful film to see.