“Remember in, like, fifth or sixth grade? I was starting to get really good at poker, and going home with lots of lunch money? I got to know the principal’s office really well. He always used to say to me: ‘How come you can’t be more like your brother, Peter?’ But you know what? I was alright with that. I had no problems with that because I was proud of you. And I was never envious of anything that you had. Until now.”
So I had planned to marry Peter, but I married Jack instead. Thank goodness my father was right. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan. But Jack, Jack gave me the perfect gift: a stamp in my passport. He took me to Florence for our Honeymoon. I guess you might say he gave me the world. Peter once asked me when it was that I fell in love with Jack. And I told him “It was while you were sleeping.”
IMDB plot summary: Ticket collecting romantic pretends to be engaged to an unconscious man but can’t fool his brother.
Is this an accurate plot summary? Well, yes, but when you put it THAT way it sounds kind of dumb.
We’re back! After a few weeks off, it’s time to dive into my all-time favorite Christmas movie. No, not Love Actually (I like that one just fine, but there are MORE than enough smart/funny articles about it on this great world wide web of ours). Not Serendipity (I hate that movie but I also love it and have seen it twice). Not You’ve Got Mail (but only because I’ve already written about it).
No, my favorite is WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING. Despite the totally crazy-sounding premise, this is a movie that fundamentally understands just how sad and lonely the holidays can be for some people. It’s every bit a dramatic, unbelievable romcom, but underneath that whole “dude in a coma” thing, there’s a heartbeat of sadness and longing. Which, obviously, I’m into.
But first, let’s discuss that crazy plot, because how many romcoms effectively use comas? Not enough!
So our girl Sandy works for the Chicago transit system. She’s lonely, which we know because of the voiceover that begins the movie, where she tells us that both of her parents are dead. We also know it because her boss asks her to work on Christmas since she’s “the only one who doesn’t have a family.” And we also ALSO know it because she has a cat, which is romcom shorthand for Lonely Lady.
But what she DOES have is Peter Gallagher, whom she sees every day as he gets on the train. What 1995 woman could resist those eyebrows, that swooping hair, that giant coat? Despite not knowing him, Sandy’s in love. She’s also sort of a hero, because when some young punks push him onto the tracks (truly a nightmare!), she JUMPS ONTO THE TRACKS to save him. It’s intense!
When she goes to check on him in the hospital, there’s (of course) a misunderstanding and everyone thinks she’s his fiance. Including Peter Gallagher’s lovely family, members of whom include Peter Boyle and a young Monica Keena. They’re so wonderful and welcoming that Sandy sort of feels like she has a family again when she attends their Christmas celebration.
Until Bill Pullman shows up.
Look at how suspicious he is! He KNOWS something’s up, but guess what? He falls for Sandy in like .5 seconds because who wouldn’t? And as for Bill Pullman himself…well. We, the viewers, fall in love with him the instant he walks (grunts) on the screen. He can build furniture! He wears a reversible jacket (practical)! He walks Sandy home! He only communicates through growling! He’s like a combination of Danny Castellano (in a good way), Luke Danes, and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike (furniture building, not stripping). He may not have Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows, but he does have the swooping hair and like ten times as much personality, and not just because he’s not in a coma.
Obviously their love is a complicated one, since Sandy’s fake engaged to his coma brother. But this is a romcom. Things work out, there’s a proposal, and everyone ends up happy.
But it’s how they get to the happiness that makes this movie so special, because everyone in this movie is insanely likable. There are no real villains, not even Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows. Even though the movie is built on an unrealistic misunderstanding, everyone plays it like it’s normal. They all love each other! Sandy gets a family! No, YOU’RE crying!
I actually don’t really like the ending of the movie (what can I say, I wanted a more dramatic proposal with more Bill Pullman growling), but thank God everything ends up totally perfect for Sandy because I don’t think I could handle her facing even a single disappointment. She goes from being so, so sad to having a new family, a new husband, and a chance to fulfill her dreams. Also she probably has a lifetime supply of handmade chairs.
But the movie never shies away from her sadness. It’s clear that the holidays aren’t a great time for her, even as she tries to get a Christmas tree up to her apartment and get in the holiday spirit. While You Were Sleeping doesn’t hit me as hard as You’ve Got Mail or Sleepless in Seattle, but it still captures a realistic sense of loneliness. And because we know how sad Sandy was, it makes her relationship with Bill Pullman about more than just falling in love. It’s about finding a family, creating a new life, opening yourself up to new experiences. It’s about a life lived alone in an apartment or a toll booth versus a life lived in crowded rooms, foreign countries, and Bill Pullman’s expertly crafted rocking chairs. While You Were Sleeping does what the best romcoms always do…it shows that love isn’t just about falling down in the snow or dramatic proposals. It’s about the hope and belief that you deserve the life you want.
-According to IMDB, JAMES SPADER was considered for Bill Pullman’s part. James Spader! Steff himself! Can you even imagine what might’ve been? Something a hell of a lot creepier, that’s for sure.
-But obviously no one could play this part but Bill Pullman. He is quite possibly my favorite romcom lead ever. He growls all of his lines. He wears the hell out of those dad jeans. I mean, if I were a lonely Chicago woman who was fake engaged to Peter Gallagher and his eyebrows, I’d fall in love with Bill Pullman, too.
Romantic comedy cliches: Opening with narration, opening with a shot of a city skyline, a love triangle, a lonely woman, a man who needs a push to pursue his dreams, a woman with a cat, deceased parents, almost kissing but being interrupted, falling down and almost kissing, a wedding, a loud/overbearing family, a misunderstanding.
Is this a good movie? This is a sweet, charming, perfect movie.
Did I like this movie? WHAT DO YOU THINK? I love this movie almost as much as Sandy loves Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows.
Would I watch this movie again? I own this movie and I watch it all the time.
I won’t be posting over the holidays, but I’ll be back on my weekly schedule again in the new year. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and may you all find your very own Bill Pullman (or at least a sweet reversible jacket).