The Sleeping Dictionary - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

The Sleeping Dictionary Reviews

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November 28, 2016
This was an interesting film. At first, it seemed like a predictable, forbidden love story and at many times it was. However, there were some plot twists that makes one unsure of which way the story will go, and for this reason it is worth watching.
½ June 1, 2014
Dancy and Alba were great together in this movie. I don't know if there is any basis in reality supporting this plot, but it made for a good story. The ending was beautiful and very satisfying after all their trials to be together.
July 8, 2013
if you are Jessica alba fan, you should see this.
June 21, 2013
This is really a good movie.
April 5, 2013
It is an interesting movie that takes place in the 20's or 30's.
March 12, 2013
Decent historical drama about a young man having his eyes opened to his own Victorian social taboos - and his manhood. Alba is surprisingly good at owning her character and not just reading the lines. Hoskins plays the "dirty and compromised old man" with ease.
February 18, 2013
The Sleeping Dictionary, a mind-numbingly dull romantic flick, should be a lot better than it is. It has a relatively strong cast, particularly in supporting roles, it uses a reliable story arc that many people are familiar with, and it was filmed on-location in Sarawak which allowed it to stretch its $15 million budget further than it would if it was filmed in, say, Vancouver. But it's not terribly good. Not with its characters not reacting in a believable way, the repetition that the story forces upon us, and the overlong running time.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. John (Hugh Dancy), decides to travel to an island nation filled with a bunch of natives whom he wishes to educate. That's what his father did, after all, before his old man was killed in the war. The Iban tribe provides him with a "sleeping dictionary," someone who will provide for him sexually -- his contract doesn't allow him to marry for three years, so this is important -- and will also hope to teach him the language after six months. Jessica Alba is Selima, the woman tasked with doing these things.

They initially don't get along, in large part because John, a good Christian man, refuses to share his bed with her because he's waiting for marriage. But as time grows, his vow to God becomes less important, and soon enough, they're in love with one another. He, an Englishman, and she, an Iban, is forbidden, and if you're thinking Romeo and Juliet, you're not alone. It doesn't get to that point, thankfully, but their love isn't allowed and this causes all sort of problems for the both of them.

In supporting roles are Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn, playing a married couple who stayed in Sarawak after Hoskins' character filled John's role many years ago. They have a daughter, Cecilia (Emily Mortimer), whom they try to get to marry John, even though he loves Selima. It would make more sense, they think, considering she's also from England and it wouldn't be immoral or something. Keep in mind that this was the 1930s, so cross-culture relationships were weird and therefore wrong.

What doesn't work are many of the different ways in which characters react during the course of the film. I get that they're acting out of what's appropriate at the time, but it didn't make a lot of sense to me. John takes to the natives way too quickly, even going so far as getting them to kill a bunch of Europeans who were going to exploit the island for resources -- just weeks after he arrived. And while all he did was tell the natives that they should defend their land, he gets blamed (by Hoskins' character) for the murder of a bunch of his own people. How does that work?

It seemed like writer/director Guy Jenkin wasn't quite sure how to create enough tension and turmoil, so he made logical leaps that might have made sense in his head, but didn't translate to the screen. Overreactions are abound, people rarely act like you'd expect real humans to act, and the whole thing feels manipulative -- even though you don't care a lot because these aren't real people.

And even if you somehow get past that, and you don't care whether or not these people are real, the lead, John, is still quite the jerk. He eventually does marry Cecilia (spoiler alert!), but doesn't treat her with much respect or love -- because he loves Selima. But why did he marry Cecilia, and also, how did that three year probation run out so quickly? Because she was introduced and therefore has to be utilized. He does this for no actual reason, and then treats her terribly because he's selfish and doesn't understand how to care for another person.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Selima and John goes from 0 to 60 way too fast to be realistic. One night, they have a fight so she sleeps outside underneath the elevated hut, and then the next day, they're the most amiable people imaginable. Things like this happen far too quickly, and yet the middle section of the film drags and seemed to contain a lot of filler. When you talk about pacing problems, this is a good example. The parts that needed length weren't given it, while the times that could have easily been trimmed were extended instead.

The supporting cast is stronger than those given leading roles. When you have Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn in the same movie, both of whom have been nominated for seemingly every major acting award, they can carry a movie. Hoskins steals each scene that he's in, while Blethyn lets you know that her character is who is really in charge. Alba and Dancy are fine, but are nowhere near the actors that their elder counterparts are.

The Sleeping Dictionary isn't a good romantic drama, although it isn't a terrible film. It's overlong, yet paradoxically still brief in the moments of importance, and none of the drama or romance works because of how poorly written and developed these characters are. But the scenery is gorgeous, the actors are strong, and you could do a whole lot worse than this. You could do much better, too, which is why The Sleeping Dictionary doesn't get a recommendation, but it's not a terrible waste of time.
February 6, 2013
I like the movie its a good romantic story n of course i love jessica alba
January 27, 2013
Jessica Alba naked... What more do you need (the movie is actually pretty good...)
December 7, 2012
sleeping with a dictionary
½ November 25, 2012
For those who can?t get enough of Hugh Dancy or Jessica Alba, this little gem from 2003 is a must-see. A period drama, set in 1930s Sarawak, the western extreme of Malaysia, still a tropical paradise. Despite its stellar supporting cast of Brenda Blethyn, Bob Hoskins, Emily Mortimer, and Noah Taylor, this film is quite forgettable. What did the director do wrong?
October 4, 2012
A charming romance with a few pleasant surprises, though marred slightly by the wildly miscast Ms Alba, who looks about as Malay as most people who have no Asian blood whatsoever. Nevertheless, the story is engaging and the script very finely honed. A terrific cast guarantee a worthwhile film.
September 24, 2012
Very sad but a damn good movie. Great love story. Nothing new, typical forbidden love story but it was done very well.
September 3, 2012
One of the best roles from Jessica Alba but the whole cast is good.
The idea of getting sex in return for learning a new language is a tad brilliant.
August 4, 2012
A true gem!!
I wonder why most people have never heard of it.
½ June 21, 2012
dont ask why i saw this stupid flick :D
June 11, 2012
Visually this is such a beautiful movie. I know it's just another love story, but the setting is awsome. I love that it takes place in such a remote area among such a wonderful culture as the Iban.
½ May 13, 2012
A different sort of love story
May 5, 2012
This was pretty poor movie, there was nothing interesting. I was disappointed.
½ April 8, 2012
loved it....the story line was strong and almost true. jessica did a great job.
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