[Warning: This review may contain spoilers.]
Rom-com? My first impression: a slow-mo meet-cute, some cheesy dialogue, a confrontation scene to fill its drama subgenre. Add in a lead character in so much denial, probably a painful breakup (or cool off) along the way and a happy ending-esque kiss somewhere in the final act. Not always, but it’s the usual expectation.
Rom-com? That’s enough to make me click. When I found out that the 2015 film “Sleepless” is one and it’s streaming on Netflix starting today, I didn’t miss the chance to see it. And, well, because the title already makes me feel seen.
However, “Sleepless” doesn’t feed into the usual rom-com blueprint. Directed by “Isa Pa With Feelings” filmmaker Prime Cruz, this movie follows two call center workmates Gem (Glaiza de Castro) and Barry (Dominic Roco) who both decide to spend time together (and nurse their insomnia) while the world is asleep. Nothing heavily romantic, really, though it has hints. Nothing sexual either. Just a deep dive into companionship against a backdrop of midnight loneliness.
I don’t antagonize the usual flow of rom-coms (come on, SCOUT’s a fan of it). But it also isn’t bad to celebrate how this movie goes beyond it. Romance is nice, but maybe not all of us need it. “Sleepless” suggests we may just need someone to understand.
Before I swim into BP Valenzuela’s “The Neon Hour” again and go completely distracted, let me tell you why “Sleepless” is no holds barred likable.
Mentally, I am in their place
I’m not talking about their insomniac state (though that’s also kind of true). I’m talking about the breathtaking location.
I normally wouldn’t glorify the city, but with how things are now, I can’t help but miss how it actually feels when your two feet strike the concrete pavement, lights hovering over like you’re some special guest. Not your feet sticking on your computer chair’s rolling legs.
Maybe it’s also because of its stunning cinematography. Trains, convenience stores and that long-ass road you can freely skate on? Pretty neat how the film captured both the chaotic echo and the imposed seclusion of these all at once.
That one makeshift concert in the toy store
The audacity of all other films that shot a toy store scene after “Sleepless,” really. I’m sorry, but their imaginative performance—with Gem on piano and Barry on drums—will get me every time.
(Sorry, there’s no available clip on the internet. You will have to watch the whole thing to see.)
I want what they have (and by that, I mean ingenuine conversations)
Remember when we used to laugh at people who said to “hate small talk” because they’d rather be “talking about the deeper things in life?” Well, “Sleepless” manages to inject off-center topics within those “small talks.”
One of the things I like about this film is its accuracy in portraying our vulnerability during ungodly hours, making us talk about things we usually won’t even think about in broad daylight. There’s a zombie apocalypse—what would you do? Look at the table across you—can you guess what their names are? Are you done? Can you guess what their relationships are like this time?
Instead of being dialogue machines and inserting these conversations out of nowhere, there’s an effective buildup and a believable connection between Gem and Barry. So real that you’d think they could go on like this even in the morning. Like, the bright kind.
It’s (also) empathy’s win for me
When Gem and Barry talk about zombies, they don’t just talk about zombies. They learn each other’s coping mechanisms, with Gem choosing to stay in the convenience store and Barry running away from them, if ever an apocalypse unfolds. When they talk about zombies, they talk about their cracks—Gem’s abandonment issues and Barry’s longing for his son.
When they talk about zombies, they find someone who doesn’t empathize with them: Gem’s mother who devalues her job. Their call center boss who could’ve done better to understand Barry’s state. That guy Gem dated who doesn’t give a fuck about her choice to slug it out in her job. Also, he literally dropped the zombie conversation when Gem tried to initiate it. Who’d trust someone like that?
It doesn’t matter what Gem and Barry’s relationship is—what matters is how they learned to feel for and through each other. The film’s success lies in its understanding of humanity.
Sure, the two deserve some good sleep but they also deserve their time together; which is in itself another form of rest. And with how the ending turns out, you’ll know why that changes their messy, broken body clock.
Still from “Sleepless”