Sleepy Time Gal is one of those brilliant films that could only be part of American indie cinema. Frances, a mother, former writer and DJ, and lover of architecture and history, discovers she has terminal cancer, and so aims to tie up the loose ends of her life and spend time with her son.
Meanwhile, in a different city, Rebecca, unhappy with her job as a lawyer and split from her boyfriend, decides to seek out some questions to her own life, including finding her birth mother, and start afresh. The two characters stories link together in various ways as, separately, each remembers and learns more about their lives.
Firstly, I should get some criticism out the way. This is a very lyrical film, striving for and often achieving a kind of cinematic poetry. Unfortunately, this yearning extends to the dialogue, and some of the characters have the most ridiculously over-articulate conversations, even if they're just talking about everyday things. At one point Rebecca says to someone she's recently met "I admire your pragmatism". Ok, maybe some people do speak like this, but in the context of the film it feels a little daft. The other problem is the first 20 minutes or so. Very little information is offered as to what the hell is going on, and I found myself a little 'sleepy' myself. However, this does actually (eventually) play to the films strengths, as we discover more things about the characters and previous scenes make more sense. Don't get me wrong though, this isn't a film full of major surprises or twists; it's more a film about honesty and emotion.
So now the plusses. First of all, the acting is great - Jacqueline Bisset deservedly got lots of praise and is equalled (thankfully, otherwise the film could have fallen apart) in ability and scope by Martha Plimpton's performance. Nick Stahl is also nicely understated. The way memories are shown is very inventive, by use of black-and-white film sped up and blurred images, still photographs and paintings and camcorder footage. Finally, the photography is, at times, stunning, with beautiful location shooting in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.
It's a bit of a depressing film in parts, but it's also refreshingly unsentimental, instead quietly poignant, and has an ending that mixes sadness and optimism in a way I wasn't expecting.