SLEEPWALKING Directed William Maher. 100 minutes. Opens Friday (March 14). Rating: N
Low-budget indies about tangled family issues are catnip to actors. They get to try out new accents, unusual wardrobes, some cool makeup choices and maybe come away with a shot at an award. The trick is picking a good one.
Sleepwalking initially seems to be about Joleen (Charlize Theron), a working-class northern Californian whose boyfriend has just been busted for running a grow op out of their house.
Joleen packs up her stuff and her daughter, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb), and crashes with her brother James (Nick Stahl), who works construction, shaves infrequently and generally acts as though he’s sitting on some horrible, life-destroying secret.
When Joleen leaves Tara in the care of Uncle James, things don’t go so well. He loses his job, then his apartment, and Tara lands in the custody of child services. After a few more plot complications, James and Tara end up on the road together, posing as father and daughter. And then more stuff happens.
Theron, Stahl and Robb are all very good at projecting lived-in despair, but they can’t do anything to breathe life into Zac Stanford’s emotionally contrived script, and director William Maher doesn’t have the first idea about how to make it all seem interesting instead of turgid and formulaic. He just underscores every mawkish moment with that tinkly piano music a director deploys when he doesn’t know how to put his footage together.