Remember that spate of great indie films in the late '90s? Affliction, In the Bedroom, Happiness, Cookie's Fortune: all similar in their portrayal of dysfunctional families, told via indie-film sensibilities. Sleepwalking wishes it could include itself on that list, but not even a time machine could transport this lifeless relic back to that heyday.
With an all-star cast, Sleepwalking gimpily chronicles how 11-year-old Tara (AnnaSophia Robb) struggles when her frazzled mother (Charlize Theron) abandons her in favor of a semi-truck driver. Left in the care of her clueless uncle James (Nick Stahl), Tara copes with the loss of her mother, the foster care system, and eventually the demons of her uncle (AKA his abusive father, played by Dennis Hopper). Sleepwalking does its ineffectual damnedest to show us the "deep bond" that develops between Tara and James—a bond that will allow James to "wake up" from his everyday dream of a life; a bond that's intended to seem heart wrenching via lingering close-ups and meaningful stares into the horizon.
Director Bill Maher's debut feature film utterly fails to capture the halcyon days of late-'90s yore. Instead of slow-building drama with a rewarding payoff, we get an agonizingly slow (and we're talking sssslllloooowwww) film that hopes you'll be happy enough with good camerawork and acting instead of character and story development or a meaningful resolution. Sleepwalking ends up being an anachronistic film that tries so hard you even get the passé "I'm so angst-y I think I'll sit at the bottom of the pool and stare up at people" trick. This ain't no Graduate.