Touchstone’s sister studio, Hollywood Pictures, wasn’t sure how successful their 1995 romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping would be. A year after the surprise success of Speed, Sandra Bullock was a fresh face on the Hollywood scene. Critics would praise her work as the lovelorn star of While You Were Sleeping, and box office receipts would propel the film to blockbuster status.
Speed brought Sandra Bullock attention, While You Were Sleeping made her a star.
Lucy, played by Sandra Bullock, is a lonely transit worker in Chicago. Every day she sits in her booth offering tokens to transit riders, and dreams about a better life. Lucy has a crush on a regular commuter named Peter, played by Peter Gallagher, but struggles to say hello.
One day Peter is attacked on the train platform and is knocked unconscious on the tracks. Lucy rushes to save him from an oncoming train, and her life will never be the same. At the hospital, mistakes are made as Peter is in a coma, and before Lucy can clear up the misunderstanding, Peter’s family, the Callaghan’s, believe she is Peter’s fiancée and they adopt her willingly into their family.
Lucy’s life changes overnight. From being alone to sitting by the fire in the Callaghan home with a gift wrapped just for her, Lucy has found something that she has longed for, a family. Her mother had been dead since she was little, and her father passed away a year ago.
When Peter’s brother Jack, played by Bill Pullman, comes home and meets Lucy, he doubts the story and continues to look for the truth. As Jack spends his time looking to poke holes in Lucy’s story, he and Lucy develop an attraction for each other. Peter wakes up and though he can’t remember Lucy, the family feels it must be amnesia, which the doctor sort of agrees with. Peter realizes that he has been given a second lease on life and asks Lucy to marry him.
A hospital wedding is hastily planned, but the guilt of the lie Lucy has been living under is too much for her. She confesses the truth at the altar and the wedding ends before it begins. Lucy is left wondering what her life will be like as she finishes her last day as a transit worker, when the Callaghan family shows up and Jack has a very important question to ask her.
Sandra Bullock makes this film shine above other generic romantic comedy films. She exudes confidence on the screen, while also helping the audience have pity for her. Bullock’s Lucy has told a lie about her relationship with Peter and the audience will root for her success because of Bullock’s performance. She is at times hilarious, but sweet. You feel like Lucy is a good person who deserves the best because of Bullock’s work to bring a creative spin to a standard character of this genre.
What makes While You Were Sleeping a surprise is that as a viewer you can get sucked in to rooting for Lucy’s success. Everywhere you look Lucy is a woman who is unknown. The hot dog vendor that she always goes to doesn’t know her, she is constantly hit on by her neighbor in tasteless ways and she works a booth where no one sees her just the tokens she hands them. Lucy’s life has been on hold for a long time, the lie about being Peter’s fiancé kickstarts her life in ways she would never imagine. We want her to succeed because of Bullock and how she brings Lucy to life on screen.
The scenes between Lucy and Saul, played by Jack Warden, are the proverbial cherry on top of the sundae which is While You Were Sleeping. Saul, Peter’s godfather, knows the truth, but he just can’t tell the family because he, like everyone else in the family has fallen for Lucy. Warden is at his best when he has his private chat with Peter. You see in just a few minutes the angst of a man who is old enough to know something that is great, in this case a relationship with Lucy, and not to lose sight of something so special.
Peter Boyle as the father Ox, is another subtle but great performance for the film. At first glance he seems like the domineering hard nosed father who has built a family business and seems to have Jack stuck in taking it over. Ox is funny, but as the movie progresses, Ox is not the typical gruff father role. Jack doesn’t want to inherit his dad’s business, and when he finally works up the courage to talk to Ox, we see the two Callaghan men sitting at the kitchen table, where Jack tells him the truth, and Ox like a reasonable man listens and agrees with his son.
If you are not a fan of romantic comedies, then While You Were Sleeping is not the film for you. Every standard trope that would be found in this film genre is on display for viewers to see.
Peter has been attacked and is in a coma, but Jack doesn’t show up till much later in the film. I would have thought he would have been at the hospital with the rest of the family when Peter was brought in. It’s a bit of a plot hole that since everyone from Grandma to the godfather show up at the hospital, why wasn’t the brother there. I’m pretty sure work could have waited for a few hours.
- The original script had the roles reversed where a woman was in the coma and it was a guy pretending to be the fiancée. Studio executives thought that plot was a little creepy and had the roles reversed.
- There are three distinct moments in the film where people lose their balance and fall hard. The opening credits start the brutality of winter weather falls when a guy slips and falls while skating, hitting his head hard on the ice. A paperboy falls off his bike which resulted in the boy breaking his arm. Finally, Bill Pullman falls on the ice in a scene with Bullock which results in him splitting his pants.
- Harrison Ford and Geena Davis were originally offered the roles but turned them down.
- The role of Lucy was originally offered to Julia Roberts and Demi Moore.
- The film was originally to be set in Brooklyn.
- Matthew McConaughey auditioned for the role of Jack, but his Texas accent didn’t fit the part.
- The organist at the wedding is Nancy Faust. She was also the organist at Comiskey Park.
- Dick Cusack, the father of John and Joan Cusack, plays Peter doctor in the hospital.
- Sandra Bullock was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.
See It/Skip It?
See It! I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies but While You Were Sleeping has a certain magic that keeps your attention for the whole film. One cannot help but marvel at Sandra Bullock as she emerges from the shadow of Speed and finally gets a chance to prove her ability as an actor. By the way, you can catch the film on Disney+.
Twenty-five years ago, While You Were Sleeping came out with little fanfare and dominated the box office. It dethroned Bad Boys and since April 1995 the world has never forgotten Sandra Bullock’s name.
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Production Company: Hollywood Pictures
- Sandra Bullock as Lucy
- Bill Pullman as Jack
- Peter Gallagher as Peter
- Peter Boyle as Ox
- Jack Warden as Saul
- Glynis Johns as Elsie
- Micole Mercurio as Midge
Release Date: April 21, 1995
Budget: $17 million
Box Office Gross Domestic = $81,057,016
Worldwide = $182,057,016