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Forget about Sissy Spacek and Halle Berry. If "The Sleepy Time Gal" had been released theatrically in 2001 (and the fact that no distributor picked it up is a tragic commentary on the state of today's film scene), the glorious Jacqueline Bisset would have been awarded the Best Actress Oscar at last week's dismal ceremony. Long-acclaimed for her dazzling beauty ("The Deep," "Class," etc.), but sadly overlooked for her impeccable acting abilities (was everyone dozing when she gave breathtaking performances of subtlety and nuance in "Under the Volcano," "Rich and Famous," "High Season," "Le Ceremonie," etc.), Ms. Bisset's portrayal of a woman trying to put her life in order when she is told she has terminal cancer is one of the finest performances ever committed to celluloid. Independently produced on a low-budget, "Sleepy Time Gal" is exactly the type of superior filmmaking so rare these days, and the fact that it was sold to the Sundance Channel (where it premiered on March 29, 2002) instead of being theatrically distributed to art-houses whose discerning patrons crave exactly this type of subtle, intelligent, exquisite jewel of a film) is a tragedy. Christopher Munch's direction/screenplay are sublime. In supporting roles, Amy Madigan, Seymour Cassell, Nick Stahl, and Martha Plimpton give performances of astonishing intelligence and warmth. As does Jacqueline Bisset, probably the finest and most underrated (as well as achingly beautiful) actress of all time. Ms. Bisset's performance, heartfelt, honest, totally devoid of histrionics, is truly to be cherished! As is "The Sleepy Time Gal."
"The Sleep Time Gal" is a the top of the heap in the little indie bone yard; that place, just around the corner from cable television and next door to standard broadcast, where the many failed hopes and dreams of independent film makers go after they die in the marketplace. A near miss with many good qualities, the film is a meandering, plaintive reflection by a dying woman (Bisset) without a story of sufficient consequence to make one want to sit through it. The film starts well and then unravels, opening issues it can't close, showing us stuff we couldn't care less about like the mushroom thing, and generally boring the thumb toward to fast forward button. A misfire with lost potential and obvious talent behind it, "TSTG" should RIP. (C-)
Christopher Munch has written and directed only three films, not one of which ever received commercial distribution. Obviously, if you want "commercial" easy watching, his movies are not for you. A viewer can have a tough time finding his movies, but maybe that's OK, because once seen, they can haunt you for years. He makes a different sort of film than the easy to find shoot-em-down-and-blow-em-up product that, once seen, can barely be recalled a week later. When I see a film by Christopher Munch, I think (as I also do after movies by Abel Ferrara or Claire Denis), "This is what celluloid is for." Look, I love a good car chase as much as the next guy, but some types of human experience require more than machinery to chase down. Munch is a cinematic poet of unfulfilled longing, but unfulfilled longing is not a subject that lends itself to tidy reconciliations and happy endings. "The Sleepy Time Gal" is all about the lives we might wish for, but will not have. If that sounds sad, it is. But surprisingly, it's not bleak the way you might expect, because Munch also shows us characters whose lives contain riches that they do not see themselves. Munch's main character, Frances (played with aching beauty and regret by Jacqueline Bisset) is a dying woman who, as she tells her doctor, has not finished her life. Too bad for her. She only sees what she has not achieved in her life. However, her lovers and we the viewers in the audience see that her beauty and her lust for life have enriched those around her in ways that she cannot recognize, perhaps because the experiences have not been comparably enriching for her. In a sense, she gives what she has not received. This sounds more sentimental than it is in the movie. There is no sentimentality in this movie. For one thing, the main character is not easy to like. She's a woman with rough edges and few illusions about the joys of parenting or the permanence of love. For another, the relationships among parents and children here are all complicated. There are no simple loves, no simple hatreds, and all the connections are difficult. For just these reasons, the relationships are completely believable. The movie has what might be the most realistic deathbed scene I've ever seen in a film. The film was shot by Rob Sweeney, who also shot Munch's previous film, "The Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day," one of the most beautifully photographed films I've seen in the last decade. This movie too contains frame after frame of richly textured compositions that never devolve into prettiness. Munch is not a linear storyteller. The complicated relationships in the movie unfold indirectly through scenes that seem initially unrelated. The varied visual textures in the cinematography help differentiate the different times and places in which we see the characters. I've only seen Nick Stahl in a few things, but the more I see of him, the more I'm impressed with his versatility. He's the manipulative Bully in Larry Clark's film of that title, and the naive, doomed every-boy of "In the Bedroom." Here he plays Bisset's son, and he's just as believable as a sensitive guy finding the strength to make his own way in the world without abandoning his assertive (and not entirely loving) mother. Altogether, this movie maps the rocky shoals of ambiguous family relationships as well as any I've seen. If you want "entertainment," skip this. If you want "easy" watching, skip this. If you want tidy emotional resolutions, skip this. But if you're up for a visually gorgeous, subtly acted reflection of the skips and stumbles that comprise most of our emotional lives, check this out.
This is another example of a film that will stay with you.
I am not going to go into a lengthy review here; why? A couple of other reviewers did so very well with their comments. Let me say simply that I found the film to be an interesting 'study' of relationships. I call it a study because is is a film that asks the viewer to listen carefully, and to think. I echo another reviewer in saying that the death scene is very realistic. (So many films make it so sparkling, they almost make death appealing). It was part of what made this film so good; I was amazed at how saddened and disturbed I became in watching Frances' last days.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first thing that crossed my mind when I had watched this movie for
a few minutes was how predictable some things were.Oh,I thought.Here we
have an aspiring indie flick,let's see how much I can guess from the
story.It was more than I had hoped for unfortunately. Not that the
acting is bad,it is not,but the story,the lines,the characters are
unfortunately full of clichés.The lines often feels unnatural and
far-fetched,people in real life won't talk to one another as if they
were acting in an on-stage play.I'm sorry,they don't.
The free-spirited and deeply intellectual former radio host Frances has three children with three different men.Every man she meets is of course attracted to her and fascinated by her,and she has mother issues(the mother is now senile but still mean and lives in a nursing home.Anna,Frances's mother, looks much younger than she should,if we assume that the story takes place around 2000).Frances too looks far younger than around 70 as she should be as it's stated in the movie that she's born in 1930. Her two sons are both intellectuals/artists too,even if constantly broke.The daughter she had with her married lover Bob was of course given up for adoption and is now,as Frances is dying from cancer,looking for her.Her name is Rebecca and she is a highly paid lawyer in New York. God forbid she would be an unnoticed housewife in the middle of nowhere. Will she find her mother before she dies?
Sleepy time gal has it's qualities.It's almost hypnotic to watch,the score consists mostly of strings and jazz,naturellement. I would have been a lot more surprised,moved and shaken if the story had been more unpredictable.And if the lines had felt more genuine.
The Sleepy Time Gal was an excellent concept that unfortunately ended up being unsatisfying. Death is a hard thing to film but this movie does nothing to enhance views we have seen about death. The adoption story was wonderful but never met a good end. I needed to see more resolution because I had to assume to much about what Rebecca found out in the end. I was disappointed that they never met and that Morgan never eluded to knowing about her, if he did. I wish it had been a better movie. For only being an hour and a half long, I felt that it was much longer. Nice try but the bar was never met.
This movie is made up of random scenes with random characters. Very little linkage is made between the scenes or characters. So a lot of what is presented is absurd, meaningless or boring. I guess if one saw it over and over, and if one had an overactive imagination, one could create for oneself a story line. Of course, that would be your story line, not the writer's or director's, because they didn't have a story line or any conception of what this movie is or is supposed to say. No scene or character is developed enough so that one could care about them. Even the music is cut short. The best part of the movie was the credits at the end, where they did play the "Sleepy Time Gal" theme song to completion. The acting was bad and contrived. But, to the actors' credit, without a plot or story line or anything to go on, what could they do? To the movie's credit, some of the random scenes have beautiful photography. I notice a lot of movies these days have a lot of confusing, random scenes that jump around in time. I suppose someone asked "why should a movie be linear?", and now film makers are making non-linear films. But it takes more skill than this move maker has (or most (all?) of the rest) to pull it off. I guess a big ego director is saying? "This is my art, take it or leave it!" Well, I'll leave it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I got lost in the last half of Sleepy Time Gal. It seemed to fall apart. Bisset is excellent but the script and the director do not give her the opportunity to bring the jumbled pieces of this film together at the end. All of the actors were good but seemed to be in different films. I don't know what the film is supposed to mean. It seemed a cheat not to be shown or told what the daughter played by Martha Plimpton thinks of not finding Bisset's character before she died. We are shown the daughter getting an address for Bisset, but we are not shown what she does from then on in her search. Did she stop? Did she track Bisset only to find that she had died shortly before? If Plimpton's character had not appeared again in the film, this lack of information about her would not be so irritating. But she does appear again in the film and we are never told how she progressed in her search. In the extras on the DVD, there's an alternate reading of Bisset's speech to the daughter she gave up. She very clearly states that she is writing a letter that will be forwarded to the daughter by the agency. Why was this bit left out of the finished film? Why just have Bisset talking to the camera as if she's thinking out loud or dreaming? The film is disjointed. Ultimately, it was an unsatisfying experience to watch it.
I can't help thinking that this film thought it was a much better film
than it actually was. I just couldn't connect with it. It came off as
pretentious. I also couldn't help but notice a heavy stylistic
influence from Woody Allen of all people here (editing and music style,
but done clumsily) which didn't fit at all. Also, what was with the
Spanish guitar music? This whole film just seemed incoherent. The
acting didn't work - little really worked right in this film. Maybe I
missed the point because I was too asleep to follow it. I found it even
difficult to enjoy the San Francisco scenery. This movie was just work
=by the way, what's so beautiful about Jacqueline Bisset? Anyone else notice that every time she said the word "idea" it came out as "IDEAR"? - very annoying.
This director is going nowhere.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I cannot imagine a film worse than The Sleepy Time Gal: the acting, the dialog, the color, the flashbacks, the mumbling, the plot, the easy-to-miss ending, and that reclining nude guy waiting to be photographed or whatever. And I am late in returning this two-day rental; therefore, I have to pay for this garbage twice. **SPOILERS** The adopted daughter does not look as though she is successful -- her actions, her dress and her vocabulary do not match the expertise she spouts. Bob -- why does he receive special attention in the opening credits? Do we know him from someplace? -- looks as though he has never read a book, yet he waxes poetic at times. Yes, I realize that I am relying too much on looks, but I mean the whole deal -- the film has to convey some image in the time it has on the screen in front of our painful eyes. Frances, who does not care too much for her own mother, comes across as the least likely candidate for Mother of the Year. What's with those sons, especially that black net/lace, sleeveless shirt worn by Joe Box Camera? And why does the daughter immediately sleep with the ole, grizzled dude who, I think, did the same with Mom years back. Is the mushroom girl real? I have no desire to see the additional material which may explain the 'shrooms or anything else in this dreadful production/Sundance choice. I neded the rewind feature of home-viewing to make certain I got the ending. The newspaper account of the book critique is too quick, the writer looks different (I recall her typing earlier), and I wonder whether the theatre goers have the advantage of a large screen. Why, o, why does Bob's wife let Frances become part of hers? How does that come about? This film makes no sense.
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