My review includes a few spoilers, but I don't think they matter much for this type of movie. It's a romance, so it's pretty easy to tell who Lucy is going to end up with. What matters is how much viewers enjoy the experience of getting to that ending.
Because she has no family, Lucy (Sandra Bullock) always gets stuck with working during the holidays, collecting Chicago "L" fares. This Christmas, her one bright spot is collecting the fare of the handsome man (Peter Gallagher) she fell in love with a while back. She has never actually spoken to him before and feels like kicking herself when he says something to her and she is unable to come up with a decent response fast enough. Then she spots a few guys attempting to mug him. She rushes over to him after he is pushed onto the train tracks, and narrowly saves him from being hit by the oncoming train.
At the hospital, Lucy desperately tries to get in to see the guy but is turned away, because she isn't a relative. One of the nurses misunderstands her and assumes Lucy is his fiancee. Lucy figures out the misunderstanding too late, after his enormous family arrives. Suddenly, everyone thinks Lucy is Peter's wonderful, life-saving fiancee. After learning that Peter's grandmother has a heart problem, Lucy is reluctant to reveal the truth. The more she gets to know Peter's family, the more she falls in love with them, and the more reluctant she is to reveal the truth and potentially lose them.
One of the people Lucy gets to know better while Peter is in a coma is Peter's brother, Jack (Bill Pullman). Jack is suspicious of Lucy at first, but he eventually warms up to her. At just about the same time, Lucy and Jack realize they're in love with each other, but the whole issue of Lucy being Peter's fiancee still stands between them. Then Peter wakes up, and things get more complicated. Somehow, Lucy has to make things right, but will she lose Jack and his family in the process?
This is one of my favorite romantic comedies. No, it's not one of those stellar, life-changing, rave-about-it-to-all-your-friends movies, but it does leave me with a nice warm feeling each time I watch it. Back when I had cable, it tended to pop up on TV each year around Christmas and New Year's, and I always watched it. Now I own it on DVD, for those times when I need a nice little pick-me-up.
Sandra Bullock is perfect as Lucy, her girl-next-door vibe making it easy to like and sympathize with her. Lucy genuinely wants to tell Peter's family the truth, but, even up to the end, she's terrified that the news might kill Peter's grandmother. She's also understandably concerned that the entire family will think she lied on purpose.
Pretty much the only selfish reason she has for putting off telling the truth is her growing love for Peter's family, but it doesn't make her any less likable. She's single, with only her cat for company. She has been alone since her father died a little while ago, and the movie makes it seem like she doesn't have many close friends. As alone as she is, it's tough for her to become part of such a large and loving family as Peter's and to then think about not having them any more, especially during a time of year when all of America practically shouts “Family!”
Bill Pullman isn't exactly memorable as a romantic lead, but he does work well as a nice, ordinary guy who clearly “fits” Lucy better than Peter. Bullock and Pullman have a gentle, warm chemistry that fits with the overall feel of the movie. I loved watching Jack and Lucy bond while struggling to get a couch into Peter's apartment and then walking back to Lucy's place afterward. Jack's card game with the still-comatose Peter was another nice scene – the movie doesn't make viewers guess about Jack's feelings. He admits he has fallen in love with Lucy, at least during a moment when no one but comatose Peter can hear, but he also admits there's nothing he can do about it other than be jealous of Peter. He's too nice a guy to make a play for his brother's fiancee, even though he knows Lucy isn't Peter's usual type.
Peter's family is a stereotypical big, kooky family. It's composed of Peter and Jack's parents, Jack, Peter and Jack's younger sister (whose name I can't remember), Peter and Jack's grandmother, and Saul, Peter's godfather and a friend of the family. Actually, I've encountered larger “big” families in movies and books. I think it's the interaction between the family members that makes this family seem so big. Every time they're together, there are multiple conversations going on, which sometimes intersect in amusing and confusing ways. They might occasionally argue, but the arguments aren't really all that important and lack much heat, so the general impression is of a family that is primarily loving and supportive. Jack's discussion with his father, about leaving the family business and going into business on his own, is the tensest things get, and even that moment resolves itself pretty painlessly.
I had to laugh when Peter finally woke up and started to reveal himself to not be the perfect person Lucy imagined him to be. Jack isn't just a better person than Peter, he's also clearly more genuinely interested in Lucy. Peter is eventually willing to accept that he can't remember Lucy because he has amnesia, and he adopts a “well, why not?” attitude towards marrying her, figuring he'll come to like her as much as everyone else after a while. Jack, on the other hand, has no problems coming up with reasons why Lucy is so likable. It makes it even easier to root for Lucy to eventually end up with Jack.
Overall, this is a pleasant, sweet romantic comedy. It might be a little too sweet for some, but it was perfect for me. The ending still has the power to reduce me to happy tears, even after having seen it several times. I love that Jack's proposal includes almost his whole family as witnesses – it's perfect, since the movie was just as much, if not more, about Lucy falling in love with the family as it was about Lucy falling in love with Jack.
Just the theatrical trailer.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- The MacGregor Grooms (book) by Nora Roberts - Nora Roberts has written several romance novels featuring large, warm, loving families. The MacGregors are a favorite of mine, and The MacGregor Grooms was the first Nora Roberts book I ever fell in love with. It features three short stories (novellas), each starring one of the MacGregor men, all tied together by the matchmaking efforts of Daniel MacGregor.
- Notting Hill (live action movie) - This romantic comedy stars Hugh Grant as a bumbling bookstore owner and Julia Roberts as a famous actress. Roberts doesn't have nearly the appeal in this movie that Bullock did in While You Were Sleeping, but there's still a bit of the element of joining a large, kooky family, and Grant's character is pretty appealing, if not much different from most of the characters he has played.
- Pretty Woman (live action movie) - I'm not sure how good a match this is, but Julia Roberts is one of the best "actress matches" I can think of for Sandra Bullock, and Roberts is more appealing in this one than she is in Notting Hill.
- My Big Fat Greek Wedding (live action movie) - Another romantic comedy in which a large, loving, loud family is a big part of the story. I could have sworn I'd written about this one, but, if I did, I can't find the post.