Director: William Maher
Returning to the same bleak and gritty territory she explored in works such as In the Valley of Elah, North Country and Monster, Charlize Theron proves her devotion to indie sleepers with her involvement as both a supporting actress and producer on Sleepwalking. An Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival and a feature debut for former assistant director William Maher and his former Chumscrubber colleague (writer Zac Stanford), Theron stars as Joleen, an irresponsible, unlucky, self-involved and promiscuous mother who, after her live-in boyfriend is arrested for growing marijuana, packs up her belongings and brings her eleven year old daughter Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) to stay with her younger brother James (Nick Stahl).
After a one-night stand with a trucker, Joleen impulsively leaves, abandoning her daughter with her clueless brother and a vague letter explaining that she’ll be back in a month in time for Tara’s birthday. Barely able to take care of himself and without a driver’s license, James struggles with his newfound responsibility and it isn’t long before he loses his job, apartment and social services starts calling until he and Tara ultimately decide to go off on their own. While my summary ends there, the film’s marketing campaign wasn’t quite that tactful, saddling Sleepwalking with one of the most wholly revealing film trailers in recent memory. From only one viewing, I’d venture to guess that 99.9% of the viewers will be able to predict the entire plot in detail so this being said, if you have any desire to see Sleepwalking, avoid the preview like the plague.
With fine support from character actors Woody Harrelson (the film’s sole comic relief) and a chilling, one-note Dennis Hopper who seems to be, at this point, playing a Dennis Hopper stereotypical baddie, the film is filled with the typical depression and purposely dirty, ugly and gray cinematography to superfluously establish the tone. In a sea of endlessly depressing indie works, Sleepwalking rates about average and the film's simplistic feel makes one realize that it may have been more successful as a work of fiction. While not as good as the aforementioned Theron films or nearly as brilliant as Nick Stahl’s similarly themed picture In the Bedroom, it provides Stahl with an even greater opportunity than his brief role in Bedroom to show his impressive range and although it’s hard to relate to any of the characters in the film, the viewers (just like the characters of Joleen and Tara) tend to put their trust in him and are lucky that their belief is largely justified… even if I can’t say the same for the film.