MPAA Rating: R

Entertainment: +2

Content: -4

AnnaSophia Robb, Charlize Theron, Nick Stahl, Dennis Hopper, Woody Harrrelson. Drama. Written by Zac Stanford. Directed by William Maher.

FILM SYNOPSIS: When her boyfriend is arrested, a woman and her 11-year-old daughter move in with her brother. Disgusted with herself for not providing a stable home life for her daughter, the woman takes off in the night, leaving the unqualified bachelor uncle to care for the girl. They begin to bond, but more trouble awaits. He loses his job, that same day he receives an eviction notice, and the county shows up to place his niece into foster care. Of course, shes unhappy about this, because the other kids are mistreating her. So, the two sneak off, road-tripping, hoping for a better life. But here comes another obstacle to the happy-ever-after. The young man, also emotionally wounded by an uncaring father, takes his niece back to his fathers farm. The father is abusive, always has been, always will be. This leads to violence before the ending credits.

PREVIEW REVIEW: The deep moral lesson: today is the first day of the rest of your life. But before the girl gets a hug from her mother and the uncle drives off into the sunset, they go through an endless array of indignities, injustices and emotional energies. I mean, these people go through a plague of problems. My first reaction to this excess was that it was overdone, heavy-handed, melodramatic and false. But to be fair to the filmmaker, some people are beleaguered by lifes travels. Indeed, problems seldom come in ones for any of us. So I underwent the bleakness of the entire film in hopes of a positive ending message. SPOILER ALERT: The father, played with venomous abandon by Dennis Hopper, has beaten his son down mentally, treating him with disdain and without the slightest indication of love. He begins doing the same to his granddaughter. And when he starts slapping her around, well, his son has had enough and beats the old man to death with a shovel. Now, heres why I give away this plot point. Watching the Dennis Hopper character slapping the girl after he has humiliated his own son, I was right there picking up that shovel along with his son, beating that monster to death. As I left the theater, I felt uncomfortable with my violent reaction even toward such a villainous screen character. The movie managed to illicit an emotional reaction from me. But was it a reaction I should be having?

Theres much pent-up rage in each character and never do any of them seek a spiritual healing. Towards the end, he tells his niece that she has awakened him, that he has spent his life sleepwalking. But I didnt see a formidable resolution. I mean he murders his father and feels nothing but relief. When he tells the niece that today is the first day of the rest of your life, the truism seems rather anemic. The filmmakers (Charlize Theron is one of the producers) offer no satisfying conclusion to lifes difficulties.

If anything, the film points out that we continue to make the same mistakes. I assume thats a deliberately placed theme. As I say, there doesnt seem to be a real resolution. The young man leaves in a truck, with no drivers license or money. The girl and her mother reunite, but the woman still has no job or place for them to live. Whats been addressed? They missed each other? Things could be worse? The filmmakers go out of their way to avoid the happy Hollywood ending, which most artists hate. But there doesnt seem to be a legitimate path given as an example how to better your circumstances. I suppose the filmmakers would disagree with my conclusion.

I understand Ms. Theron underwent a nightmarish childhood. Fortunately for her, she was endowed with great looks and an equal amount of great talent. These tools helped her rise above her circumstances. But I dont see how her example is helpful to those not so blessed.

I found the film frustrating and dispiriting. Heck, it would dispirit Tennessee Williams.

DVD Alternative: Tender Mercies. Robert Duvall stars as a country western singer on the skids until a religious widow and her little boy take him in. The film addresses many of the same topics, but includes a spirituality missing in Sleepwalking. Rated PG for some objectionable language in the beginning. But when the Christian woman has an effect on his life, out goes the profanity. Oscars went to Duvall and writer Horton Foote.

Preview Reviewer: Phil Boatwright
Overture Films/Paramount

The following categories contain objective listings of film content which contribute to the subjective numeric Content ratings posted to the left and on the Home page.

Crude Language: None

Obscene Language: Theres a great deal of cursing in this film and by every character, including the kid, indicating the ignorance of the screen characters and the willingness of the audience to accept such discourse as acceptable movie dialogue. Around 25 obscenities a split between the s- and f-words.

Profanity: Six or so profane uses of Gods name or Christs.

Violence: The grandfather slaps his granddaughter, then begins beating her. His son kills him by beating him to death with a shovel.

Sex: One sexual situation indicating the mothers proclivity to have sex with strangers.

Nudity: None

Sexual Dialogue/Gesture: A couple of brief sexual conversations between blue-collar workers.

Drugs: Smoking and drinking by several characters.

Other: None

Running Time: 101 minutes
Intended Audience: Adults

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