The Sleepy Time Gal

2001, Movie, 94 mins


Excellent performances from Jacqueline Bisset and Martha Plimpton grace this deeply touching melodrama about a one-time free spirit who must now face the fact that she may be dying of cancer. Frances (Bisset) is a self-described vagabond, a former political activist and the mother of two sons: aspiring San Francisco photographer Morgan (Nick Stahl) and Rich, a drifter whom Frances hasn't seen in years. In addition to running poverty programs in poor New York City neighborhoods, Frances once worked the night-owl shift at a small Daytona Beach radio station where she was known to her listeners as "The Sleepy Time Gal"; she now barely gets by as a freelance writer. Frances also once had a relationship with a married man, Bob (Seymour Cassel), and bore a daughter, Rebecca, whom she then gave up for adoption under pressure from her overbearing mother (Carmen Zapata). Now battling cancer, Frances visits Bob on his farm and confesses that she's begun to dream about her lost daughter and is haunted by her absence. Rebecca (Plimpton), meanwhile, is a corporate lawyer working mergers and acquisitions for a prestigious New York City law firm. Coincidentally, Rebecca has recently begun searching for her birth mother, but finds herself down in Daytona Beach on an entirely separate matter: She's been assigned to work a deal involving the buyout of a small local radio station that broadcasts vintage popular music to its small but loyal audience. She befriends the station's general manager (Frankie Faison) who gives her the history of the station and its unusual format, as well as the beautiful DJ called the Sleepy Time Gal. Writer-director Christopher Munch's third feature, beautifully shot by Rob Sweeney, is a sad, sensitive reckoning of all the things that make up a life: the connections people make, the routes they choose to take and all the chances they let pass. And like Munch and Sweeney's previous film, COLOR OF A BRISK AND LEAPING DAY, in which a young Chinese-American man tries to save a doomed Yosemite Valley railroad line during the post-WWII auto boom, it's also a sentimental elegy for all the good things that are allowed to slip away in the name of progress: freedom, personal dreams, old radio stations. The fact that Munch chooses to set this film in the early '80s is a poignant acknowledgement that the past that Frances and Rebecca must ultimately let go is already lost to the rest of us. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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