Hollywood has always provided audiences with love stories, both happy and tragic, but a romance with a generous amount of humor constitutes its own genre. From the years of classic studio filmmaking to the bright pop of the 1960s to today, romantic comedies have enjoyed significant popularity, and the decade of the 1990s was a particular high point. While You Were Sleeping is one such movie, and it is also an example of a high-concept premise which is still very romantic and also hilarious.
The 1995 release While You Were Sleeping, directed by Jon Turteltaub, stars Sandra Bullock, Bill Pullman, and Peter Gallagher. Bullock plays Lucy, a Chicago transit worker who saves the life of the man she has a crush on (Gallagher), only to be mistaken for his fiancée by his large and entertaining family. That includes his brother Jack (Pullman), who complicates things by offering Lucy another romantic option. Lucy has lost both her parents and has no siblings, so loneliness definitely casts a shadow over her decisions throughout the crazy situation in which she finds herself.
The heightened suspension-of-disbelief detail in this film that demands discussion first is the core of its premise—the coma. When Lucy saves her crush, he’s been mugged and pushed onto the elevated train tracks where she works in the token booth. She pulls him out of the path of a train, but he has hit his head and slips into a coma. A nurse at the hospital gets the wrong idea when Lucy comes to visit him, so he’s not conscious to tell anyone she’s actually NOT his fiancée. What a useful plot device! Other coincidences pile up as well. Gallagher’s character, also named Peter, doesn’t really spend time with his family even though they live in the same city, a factor that allows the mix-up to continue because it explains how his family wouldn’t know he was engaged. Also, the woman romantically involved with Peter is out of the country at the time this all happens.
All of this supports the plentiful comedy of the film. Laughs are frequent here and run the gamut from sight gags (like the newspaper boy wiping out on his bike) to situational humor (such as Jack getting his delivery truck stuck at a meter between two cars). Character-based comedy carries most of the screen time of this movie, though, and one standout is the son of Lucy’s landlord, Joe Jr., played by Michael Rispoli, who tries to date Lucy. He’s mostly harmless, but he brings the funny! Likewise, legend Glynis Johns has a cheeky and memorable appearance as Jack and Peter’s grandmother, and she has a couple of hilarious moments.
This doesn’t mean the film skimps on the fluff, though. The romantic content here would satisfy any viewer. Jack and Lucy have substantive conversations, they slip on icy sidewalks together, and Jack teaches Lucy about “leaning.” There is never any tension about whether the two characters will get together in a story like this; the point is HOW they will get there, and this journey pays off for the audience. The looks between Jack and Lucy leave no doubt about how they feel, and the sturdy chemistry between Bullock and Pullman leads those of us watching steadily along until the swoon-worthy resolution.
Romance and comedy operate along with a high-concept premise in While You Were Sleeping, and the result is a top-tier example of the genre in a decade when they flourished. The coma and some other details may seem to strain credulity, but they really just create a contrast for the warmth and timelessness of the need for love we all have which this film conveys so well. The decade of the 1990s offers a wide variety of viewing experiences, but if I have my choice, I’m reaching for something sweet and funny. And I know I’m not alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Sexton lives in Ohio with her dog Lily. Her favorite things are movies and books, and her hobby is editing fan videos.