One of my favorite Christmas films of recent years is WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, in which a case of mistaken identity during the holiday season leads to romance.
Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is preparing to mark a lonely Christmas with her cat. Her father has recently passed away, and she's stuck in a dead-end job working as a tollbooth collector at a Chicago train station, where it's expected she'll work holidays because she doesn't have a family.
For weeks Lucy has admired Peter (Peter Gallagher) as he walks through the station. When Peter is nearly killed by muggers, Lucy saves his life; while Peter is in a coma, his family mistakenly believes she's his fiancee. For reasons which are plausible in the context of the film, Lucy doesn't set them straight. Soon Lucy is celebrating Christmas with Peter's family, enveloped in their warmth...and finding herself very attracted to Peter's brother Jack (Bill Pullman).
The funny performances and family relationships, combined with the seasonal setting, really make the movie. Lucy initially seems like just a bit of a loser, with her shabby clothes, scraggly hair, and boring job, not to mention her willingness to pretend to be someone she's not. Bit by bit, the film and Bullock peel back the layers to reveal the inner Lucy, a warm and loving woman who longs to have a relationship and be part of a family.
And what a family! Pullman is charming as Jack, Lucy's true Mr. Right. Peter and Jack's parents are wonderfully played by Peter Boyle and Micole Mercurio. Glynis Johns (half a century on from VACATION FROM MARRIAGE) steals every scene she's in as the daffy grandmother with a heart condition. Jack Warden plays Peter's godfather, who is considered one of the family...and who is on to Lucy from the beginning.
One of my favorite scenes takes place when the family sits around the dinner table discussing the relative heights of actors such as Alan Ladd and Cesar Romero, interspersed with comments on the creamy mashed potatoes. It's a hoot, and the disjointed conversation strikes me as very real.
There are a couple of visually beautiful scenes where Jack and Lucy talk outside her apartment building, with the trees in the courtyard behind them lit up with Christmas lights. Sequences such as this, or Lucy's arrival at the family's festively decorated home, give the film a lovely seasonal glow. The film doesn't heavily push the Christmas angle, yet it wouldn't be the same without it.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING was directed by Jon Turteltaub, whose best-known work includes COOL RUNNINGS (1993) and NATIONAL TREASURE (2004). The movie runs 103 minutes.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING is available on widescreen DVD. It also had a pan and scan release on VHS.