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The Reeler Blog

Sleepwalking by Numbers

By Annaliese Griffin

To establish the intimacy required to play an on-screen mother and daughter duo Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb spent a lot of time on the set of Sleepwalking just talking about the world and the types of people in it so that they could better grasp their characters.

What women deserve? Charlize Theron and AnnaSophia Robb in Sleepwalking, opening today in New York (Photo: Overture Films)

"She had told me about some experiences where she was around an environment where she felt that some of the people had some similar circumstances to what the story was," Theron told The Reeler during a press junket Wednesday, explaining how she and Robb prepared for their roles together. "But obviously in her young life there's some more exploring to do there, so we just spent a lot of time talking about different experiences and things and --"

"And behavior," said Robb, who acts more like Theron's little sister than her daughter in person.

"-- and behavior, and the human condition and what people do and a real understanding of what this relationship was," Theron finished, twisting a ring with a large amber-hued stone up and down her finger as she talked. Sleepwalking (opening today in New York) features the Oscar-winner as Joleen, a still-pretty but worn around the edges young mother who is forced to move in with her little brother James (Nick Stahl). She brings her teenage daughter Tara (Robb) along, quickly abandoning them both to Nick's fairly shallow set of life skills after leaving town with a trucker.

Despite fine performances and the occasionally startling and surreal moment (the Graduate-esque scene, for starters, in which Robb roller skates around an indoor pool in a seedy motel, smoking, then climbs the diving board and plunges underwater), the storyline is ultimately grating and dull. Dennis Hopper eventually appears as James and Joleen's abusive father, with each destined to repeat the same grim mistakes, over and over, until they encounter some sort of moment of epiphany and absolution. Can't we expect interesting roles, particularly for women, that don't rely on the tired narrative of victimhood and recovery?

Robb, who previously starred in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Because of Winn Dixie and finished her first radio voice-over at age 8, told The Reeler that Sleepwalking was a welcome, complex challenge. "For me as a young actor it's hard to come across these meaty roles," she said. "Generally at my age they're starting to become little, cute love stories. There's nothing wrong with that, but I mean, it's really exiting and an opportunity when a story like this and characters like this come along."

Theron, who believed in the film enough to produce as well as act in it, underscored her young co-star's point, saying that audiences are more comfortable watching men play morally ambiguous characters than women. "I'm always interested when I read something where in the first 10 pages the character does something somewhat horrible and to try to find the humanity in that," she said. " And I think that women deserve that."

Posted at March 14, 2008 5:07 AM

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