|While You Were Sleeping|
|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 03 February 1998|
Sandra Bullock is so thoroughly associated with romantic comedies these days that it's a little startling to remember that she came to mass public attention only four years ago opposite Keanu Reeves in 'Speed.' 'Speed' was a terrific movie and Bullock was great in it, but it's not exactly the genre she's become best known for. 'While You Were Sleeping,' released the following year, can be credited for perma-gluing Bullock to the concept of cheery love stories.
In 'Sleeping,' Bullock plays Lucy, a token booth attendant for Chicago's Transit Authority. Lucy develops a crush on handsome stranger Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher), but never speaks to him--until the day he falls off the train platform. Lucy saves the man's life and follows him to the hospital, where he lies in a coma. Through a series of miscommunications, the injured man's family comes to believe that Lucy is Peter's fiancée. In most conventional romances, all the leading lady wants is to pair off with the leading gentleman, but here Lucy finds herself longing to become part of the whole Callaghan clan. Her desire is made easier by said family's welcoming her with open arms--which makes Lucy tremendously uncomfortable, as she and her beloved do not actually know one another. Complicating matters further is that Lucy and Peter's brother Jack (Bill Pullman) find themselves reluctantly falling for each other.
Bullock and Pullman are both individually likable enough for us to comprehend what their characters see in each other. The script by Daniel G. Sullivan & Fredric Lebow has some witty surprises, especially in the turn things take once Peter inevitably awakens. Director John Turteltaub moves things along with a gentle swiftness that lets us enjoy the tale without feeling that we're either dawdling or being beaten over the head. The film is physically handsome without having any standout moments of visual beauty or aural drama; the playful handling of Peter's near-miss with the train in Chapter 4 will tell browsing viewers what they need to know about the overall tone.
What really distinguishes 'While You Were Sleeping' from other light romantic comedies is the scope of its theme. Ordinarily, films about strangers attempting to ingratiate themselves with families turn out to be stalker thrillers. Here, Lucy's yearning to belong is celebrated as an impulse both understandable and laudable. There's a lot to be said for a film that acknowledges that the human need for ties can transcend bonds of blood and sexual attraction.