What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that even though one of the main characters in this film is an 11-year-old girl (played by popular tween star AnnaSophia Robb, at that), it has decidedly mature themes. The girl's mother clearly loves her but is deeply troubled: She swears at her daughter, removes her from her bedroom so she can use it to tryst with her boyfriend, and even abandons her. (She does somewhat redeem herself in the end.) The girl is, unsurprisingly, deeply affected by it all -- she swears and smokes, is wracked with insecurity, and trusts virtually no one. Later, she witnesses and is subjected to harsh violence. There's also a passing reference to drug use (Joleen's boyfriend goes to jail for growing pot), drinking, and strong language throughout.
What's the story?
After his sister Joleen's (Charlize Theron) boyfriend is hauled off to jail -- leaving her and her daughter, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb), homeless -- James (Nick Stahl) doesn't have much choice but to take them in. But then Joleen takes off, leaving James to care for Tara, even though he's barely able to care for himself. He tries, learning to drive a car so he can take her to school (even though it makes him late for work) and skipping his construction job altogether when she wants to search for her mom. But he soon gets fired for his absences, is evicted from his apartment, and loses Tara to social services. Hoping to make things right, he whisks her away from foster care back to the farm where he and Joleen grew up. Instead of being an escape, however, his homecoming reminds him all-too-painfully of why he and Joleen turned out so lost. Faced with the possibility of his forbidding father (Dennis Hopper) ruining Tara, too, Nick is forced to make an explosive, yet strangely freeing, decision.
Is it any good?
Once in a while you come across a film that means so well you wish it nothing but success. SLEEPWALKING is that kind of movie. Its story and lead actors are as earnest as they can be. Stahl is especially haunting, particularly in a scene in which he lies on the floor of a basement, crying, and Robb is mature beyond her years, as befits the role.
But, sadly, the movie fails, unable to capitalize on its generally strong performances. (Theron, who also produced the film, is the exception here -- but even she isn't horrible so much as overdone.) Scenes flow from one to the next with no real energy. In short? The title is a dead giveaway.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about how "bad" parents are depicted in movies. Why are there so many films about moms and dads who don't seem suited to the job? Do you think the way they're characterized is realistic? What makes someone a "good" or "bad" parent? How does Joleen handle motherhood? Is it clear in the beginning that her child matters to her the most? Does she change in the end, or is James a more suitable parent, despite what happens?