I love Sandra Bullock movies, especially this one. Not only is it a fun and heartfelt rom-com, but it’s also in my lineup of Christmas movies, given its setting.
Sandra Bullock’s character, Lucy, isn’t expecting anything in her life to change. She thinks she’ll be alone for Christmas, New Year’s, and the foreseeable future. Instead, she finds the love of her life and a family—everything she’s ever wanted—and walks into the new year with a new life. It just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner. In Lucy’s case, she never thought that her job as a fare collector for Chicago’s Transit Authority would provide some surprises here and there—especially a surprise of such magnitude.
On Christmas Day, Lucy saves Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher) from an oncoming train after he’s been pushed onto the tracks by a group of thugs who are mugging him. She’s called a hero, though she shies away from the commendation. She was just doing what any good citizen would have done, at least in her opinion.
Obviously her adrenaline (and her love for him) helps her get Peter off the tracks in time, as they both nearly miss being hit by the train. Lucy’s more than what she seems; she’s quiet and shy, but when there’s an emergency, you definitely want her at your side. The unexpected shows up in both Lucy’s character and in the universe itself in this film.
The unexpected is a fun element that contributes to this film, making it a classic both then and now. It’s a familiar tactic used in many movies. The rom-com Bewitched, based on the TV series of the same name, comes to mind in regard to finding love where one least expects it. Isabel, a witch, unexpectedly becomes an actress in the TV show remake of the classic 1960s sitcom, and she falls for her onscreen husband, Jack. Jack hardly expects that the sitcom he’s acting in will influence real life, as he himself falls for a witch. It’s surprises like these that make a rom-com memorable.
The unexpected is the perfect twist for any rom-com, and a good rom-com has a twist no other film can emulate. The unexpected twist in While You Were Sleeping is the fact that Lucy loves one man, but falls for another—and not just another man, but the brother of the man she thinks she loves. It doesn’t get more complicated than that.
In addition, the unexpected plot twist functions as though the universe has intervened, as Lucy, talking to herself about how she is going to marry Peter, is unknowingly overheard by a nurse, who tells Peter’s family that Lucy is engaged to their son.
Sometimes divine intervention works in mysterious ways. It comes when you need it most, and Lucy definitely needs family—she’s been alone for far too long already. She’s accepted immediately by everyone apart from Jack (Bill Pullman), Peter’s brother, who is more suspicious than not. Still, the universe wills them to be together; Lucy may love Peter, but the more she gets to know Jack, she discovers he is a better match for her and winds up falling for him instead. Lucy even surprises herself, discovering things about herself that change the course of her life.
It’s not guaranteed that Lucy’s deception would be as well-received in real life. The whole mixup isn’t necessarily her fault, but the longer she goes along with the lie, the worse it becomes. It’s possible the Callaghans feel used; though their struggle with Lucy’s deception and their obvious forgiveness is not shown, it has to exist in order to get from the disastrous events of the wedding to the happier event when Jack proposes to Lucy in her booth.
The Callaghans are naturally giving people. Though they likely feel betrayed, my guess is their sympathy overrules everything once they hear Lucy’s story and how much she wants a family after feeling so terribly alone. This is understandable, but their turnaround seems a little too instantaneous to be believable.
Jack, especially, seems to change his mind a little too suddenly where it concerns Lucy. Clearly, once she reveals the truth at the wedding, he is hurt and can’t seem to face her. To this day, I still wish there was a scene to see how or what changes Jack’s mind and leads him to propose to Lucy. His love for her obviously overcomes whatever hurt she’s caused him, but it is a little too rom-com of the script to simply overlook this aspect.
When I first saw the film, I thought nothing of the family’s eagerness to forgive Lucy and accept her into their family anyway. Now, I wonder about it from time to time, but to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. Sometimes films that aren’t necessarily realistic are just what the doctor ordered. It’s nice to see problems solved and only happiness and joy win in the end.
Lucy mentions that her father would say that life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan it. The film does a beautiful job of intertwining Lucy’s relationship with her father into the storyline; it’s almost like he’s guiding her from above. Perhaps her father has something to do with leading Lucy to Jack instead of Peter; given how close they were, it’s not unlikely that her father would know what (and who) she needed.
Life is a funny thing sometimes. You have a plan, but somehow, it’s thrown off course, shaken up some, or just totally obliterated. Chances are, it’s because you’re meant to learn something, are heading for something better, or both. At least, that’s what I believe; it helps me move on a little faster when things don’t go according to plan in my own life.
The plot makes things look a little too easy when it comes to breaking plans. Hard as it is to admit, things don’t work out as quickly in real life as they do in films. Lucy is at a low point in her life, not traveling or pursuing her dreams, but one day at work changes her entire life. In the movie, this is a necessary part of the plot. However, things don’t always come to you—sometimes you have to go to them.
Take for instance, What’s Your Number? That film finds Anna Faris, inspired by an article, to pursue her old boyfriends, hoping one of them might turn out to be her true love after all. She takes the reigns of her own life and charges forward; things don’t just come to her. By going forward and doing what she wants, it leads her to what she needs: Chris Evans, who just so happens to be helping her track down the men in her life. That shared pursuit allows Anna and Chris to grow closer and develop feelings for one another.
In Lucy’s case, everything just seems to happen spontaneously, continually occurring in succession, as though Lucy isn’t in control of her own life. While not very believable, some of it rings true—there are things that happen to us that we can’t explain, but it doesn’t exactly line up perfectly, helping us understand what’s happening or where we’re being led to.
Speaking of which, it always bugs me how close she gets to marrying the wrong man. If the signs are so obviously aligned, how can she ignore them? I suppose Lucy, for her part, doesn’t want to hurt the Callaghans and thus just follows the lie. Jack, for his part, likely doesn’t want to ruin Lucy’s and Peter’s lives by following his own feelings—both his and Lucy’s reasoning I understand, though in the bigger picture, it’s painful to watch.
So, I was definitely relieved when Lucy breaks her wedding plans to reveal the truth, to everyone, once and for all. She can’t live with the burden of the fabricated truth, and she can’t marry someone she doesn’t love. She saves the day, and though it does cause some hurt, it makes for a far happier ending. Some plans are just meant to be broken.
Love Conquers All
There’s that age-old element that’s required in any rom-com: love. The reason the film was so well-received in 1995, and why it remains a popular rom-com 25 years later, is undoubtedly the love and chemistry shared by Lucy and Jack.
Love sometimes appears in the most unlikely of places. My favorite thing about this rom-com, and likely one of the reasons While You Were Sleeping stands out against others in its genre, is that Lucy thinks she’s in love with one man but easily falls for another.
My take is that Lucy doesn’t ever actually love Peter. Yes, she cares about him and obviously wants to get to know him, but the thing is, she doesn’t know him. She’s infatuated with him based on his looks and his overall vibe. That’s more along the lines of an intense crush. Can you really love someone without knowing a thing about them? The question is debatable, but in this case, I think Lucy thinks she loves him, but once she meets Jack, she finds out what love really is—what it feels like, its passion, its strength.
Something she shares with Jack that she lacks with Peter is an instant connection. There’s a certain chemistry that’s palpable; so much so it can be read by audiences. I have to commend the casting choices in that regard.
That connection, which only builds and grows as Jack and Lucy get to know one another, becoming friends and then something more, is precious in more ways than one. It’s an illustration of true, meant-to-be kind of love. The kind of love that lasts, and the kind of love that everybody wants.
The film’s love story is one that audiences want. That kind of love is always desirable, making the film’s story timeless. It will never go out of style, because love is a constant that so many people spend ample amounts of time seeking. While You Were Sleeping makes it look achievable—if the film is anything to go by, that kind of love comes when you least expect it.
A Family United
Peter’s accident saves the main characters in the film, albeit in different ways. For Peter’s family, it brings them all together and in turn, they become closer to one another. By extension, their lives are bettered. Peter wakes up and, coaxed by his godfather, decides to be a better man—mostly for Lucy, who he believes to be the fiancée whom he’d forgotten about due to amnesia. Though after the truth is revealed at his wedding to Lucy, he appears guilty and ashamed when his family finds out his real fiancée is already a married woman, and they subsequently admonish him.
Peter chose a different life for a reason—what hurts need to be healed for him to accept his family into his life, and vice versa? Does he view his accident as a second chance, and that’s why he’s so willing to change?
Meanwhile, Jack, with Lucy’s support, finally tells his father that he wishes to make furniture instead of taking over the family business. He’d previously hesitated to do so, not wanting to let his father down, but instead gets an unexpected reaction when his father accepts his decision. If only these kinds of things were that simple; outside of the cinematic world, this kind of thing would bring up old wounds and conflict, and would take much longer to settle. It’s Jack’s father’s dream that Jack will take over the business, especially when it’s obvious Peter won’t. Giving up that dream overnight isn’t exactly plausible.
Just as Lucy helps the Callaghan family, they help her in return. She gets a family and the love of her life, and she isn’t so lonely anymore. As Lucy declares in the film, she may have saved Peter on the tracks, but really, the experience has saved her. It led her to the Callaghans, and it led her to Jack, who took her to Florence, Italy, her lifelong dream destination, for their honeymoon.
I don’t think everything would’ve turned out so picture-perfect in reality, though. Jack probably wouldn’t have proposed to her right away; it’s hard to say whether or not Jack would trust her again after she went along with the lie of being his brother’s fiancée. I think they’d want to go back to the beginning, get to know each other for real, and then head for the altar.
The Callaghan family, meanwhile, would probably have mixed feelings. Not just about Lucy, but Peter as well. Peter isn’t really like his family, and the only people who seem to acknowledge it are Jack and Peter’s godfather, Saul. Peter has been up to some pretty questionable things in his life; how would his family deal with that? And how about the fact that Peter obviously hasn’t been honest with them in certain regards?
Meanwhile, the Callaghan family would likely be conflicted about Lucy’s character. She does cause both sons heartbreak, albeit unintentionally, and in a way, uses them out of her own selfish desire for a family. I can’t see them being too eager to see Jack with Lucy—they’d want to protect their son from pain. Lucy may be able to win them over with time, but their immediate forgiveness is hard to swallow.
Despite these oversights, While You Were Sleeping is still a sweet, sappy, Christmas-y movie that remains a favorite in my household. The entire thing, beginning with the unfortunate mugging, turns out to save all the characters, leading them to something far better and bringing them closer together. I daresay it’s their Christmas miracle.