Two deeply damaged siblings try to escape their abusive past in visual-effects artist William Maher's directing debut, from a script by Zac Stanford (THE CHUMSCRUBBER).
Joleen Reedy (Charlize Theron, who also produced), a drifter whose life is measured in useless boyfriends and abrupt relocations, is on the wrong side of 30 and is a barely adequate mother to 11-year-old Tara (AnnaSophia Robb). When Joleen's latest guy, a small-time drug dealer, is busted in the middle of the night, she and Tara are abruptly left homeless. Joleen turns to her younger brother, James (Nick Stahl), who lives in a dump on the literal wrong side of the tracks and has a dead-end public-works job he's about to lose because he's always taking time off to help Joleen through one crisis or another. It's hard to say which Reedy is in worse shape: Bristling slattern Joleen, who's too busy being mad at life to figure out a way to make hers better, or morose, defeated James, who seems hard-put to get through the day. A few days after James takes her in, Joleen vanishes in the middle of the night with a truck driver, leaving Tara behind. James tries to look after his niece, but he can barely look after himself, let alone a sullen adolescent girl torn between loving and hating her feckless mother. The system steps in and Tara is placed in foster care, but James –- now racked with guilt on top of everything else –- can't resist when she begs him to spring her, especially since he's lost both his job and his apartment. They hit the road together, pretending to be father and daughter (she gleefully picks a new name, "Nicole"), setting in motion a chain of events that can only end badly.
Stanford's script is painfully obvious, right down to the line of dialogue spelling out the title's significance: "Before now, it's like I was living in a dream," says James to Tara. "A bad dream... like I was sleepwalking." And that's a shame, because the cast is uniformly excellent, starting with 14-year-old Robb – she makes a strong transition from child roles with her portrayal of the mercurial Tara. Dennis Hopper, who comes into the story late as Joleen and James' horrible father, is on familiar ground, but his restless, seething energy is an effective counterpoint to Stahl's low-key brooding. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh