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The Sleepy Time Gal (Christopher Münch) 2002


    In the end, Christopher Münch’s occasionally epic cancer and female bonding flick The Sleepy Time Gal bites off a bit more than it can chew, but sometimes a bit of excess is a pleasant way to pass the time. Consider the narrative, which must take place in about a dozen cities across about half a dozen time periods. As the movie opens, we go from New York, to San Francisco, to Florida, to Pennsylvania in the space of ten minutes. The years flit away quickly here, before the movie posits us in its “present” (the mid-eighties). The vignettes that start the film are so expansive in scope that it’s impressive when the film settles down and achieves a good bit of intimacy.

 The most remarkable thing about Sleepy is that although it chronicles the lives of a mother and the daughter that she gave up for adoption, and although they never meet, they to share a profound connection. The film’s liberal-minded characters are fairly functional, and have refreshingly worked through the majority of their “issues”, so that the biggest obstacles to their happiness are temporal and spatial instead of psychic and dysfunctional. As such, the soul searching that takes up the majority of the film has more interesting priorities than the feel good nonsense expelled in films of this kind usually does. Since the characters in this film have robust lives, their contemplations don’t sound like the affirmative pap that fills such films as Life as a House or American Beauty.  The characters and their problems are decidedly individuals, not Everyman stand-ins for forlorn audience members.


The panorama of hurt on display is interspersed with a large number of sharply observed slices of life. The actors bring a great amount of personality to the film, with the always-good Martha Plimpton being the standout. One scene, in which her mergers and acquisitions lawyer (a too cute occupation for a character struggling with their adoption, to be sure) lays bare her life’s compromises and aspirations to a radio DJ at a station she’s taking over is especially impressive. Another scene, in which Nick Stahl’s character is reminded of the privileged life that he leads also struck a chord, since the film is perceptive enough to note that sometimes intellectual and emotional freedoms are greater than the obvious financial ones. That sort of insight makes the film’s occasional overindulgence forgivable. The Sleepy Time Gal, like the fictional radio show host that the film gets its name from, is a distinctly American story, and as such, the alternative lifestyles chosen by its characters demonstrates how a unique soul can flourish on the road less traveled even in the midst of faceless commercialism. The director’s story spans across the nation, referencing history dating back to the Revolutionary War. Münch’s aggrandizement of his tale is unnecessary. There’s little need to make his characters stand for us all, though.  Their rare outlooks are more impressive when they are allowed to retain every bit of their individuality.




Jeremy Heilman