New Review Of Old Movies: ‘While You Were Sleeping’

For the Los Alamos Reporter

Something about Sandra Bullock movies from the 1990s seems more real to me than my own life in 2023. 

And no, it’s not just today when my whole face hurts, caught in the throes of some relentless virus. I woke up with the sensation that I’d just worked a nine-hour waitressing shift without feet, instead dealing with my variously vociferous, needy, cranky, flirty, lewd, and petty 2 a.m. six-tops while hopping around on my face. 

It happened a month ago as well, with “28 Days,” throughout which I enjoyed a much less intrusive face. 

I don’t think it’s a coming-of-age phenomenon. I did come of age in the ’90s. Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain’s voices do blast in my brain every time I feel an emotion. 

But these movies aren’t coming-of-age movies, and they’re not even movies I necessarily first saw during those years. For instance, I don’t think I ever watched “While You Were Sleeping” until today. I’m 46. 

Further, the film took place in Chicago. I’m not from Chicago. I spent maybe 72 hours in Chicago during my formative years, primarily in a feminist bookstore holding hands with someone I still believe wholeheartedly was Sara Gilbert from “Roseanne.” I’ve only visited the Windy City one night since, after a missed connection on my flight back from New York, where I am from. I know what you’re thinking: Every ’90s movie except “WhileYou Were Sleeping” is set in New York City. But I’m not from a city at all. I grew up on a dirt road that’s actually, or so I hear anyhow, still a dirt road today. 

When I got temporarily stranded in Chicago, and used my very non-1990s cell phone to call a très 21st-century Uber to take me to a hotel I could never have afforded on 18-year-old Kelly’s Perkins’ waitress salary, I had been visiting my mother. My mom had cancer. I’d gone back and forth from New Mexico a lot that year. Good thing, too, as the pandemic took that option away not long after, and she died just before Christmas 2020. 

Sandra Bullock and my mom share very little in common, but Sandra Bullock’s character’s — Lucy’s — mom in “While You Were Sleeping” had also passed away, as had Lucy’s father, as has mine. Perhaps I identified with Lucy’s loneliness, the force that presses the whole movie into its sentimental, basically Christmas-tree-slash-engagement-ring-shaped plot. 

Perhaps I identified with a memory of life pre-marriage, pre-children, pre-smartphone, pre-wireless-Internet. What did I do all the time, besides repeatedly regret wearing steel-toed Docs into crowd-surfing situations?

I suspect what I’m feeling is not that life is “less real” now but rather too fast to pick up on the subtleties. I watch a movie — non-Pixar, I mean — maybe once a month. The only concerts I go to are at Ashley Pond, where I (sorry, amazing musicians!) barely notice the music for all the child-tending, chit-chatting with other parents, and eternal internal-monologuing about the state of my house (like a burrito smothered in dust and dog hair) and summer calendar (a burrito smothered in kids’ violin lessons, Girl Scout camps, and un-applied sunscreen). Oh, and my first-time directing a full-length play. I decided to start easy with a script that includes gang murder, teen suicide, and a long-standing feud between the supposed grown-ups.

I recommend “While You Were Sleeping.”

One of the main characters remains unconscious through 80% of the action. That’s a profound statement right there. If I want to do a lot, I’ve gotta really do it, as if the whole world were Sara Gilbert’s hand.