‘Sleepwalking’ – Working class malaise

‘Sleepwalking’ – Working class malaise

Charlize Theron is getting good at going the blue-collar route. Theron napalmed her beauty to play a serial killer in “Monster,” earning an Oscar in the process. Her last big assignment, “North Country,” doused her in a soot-covered uniform as she fought off sexist co-workers.

Now, she’s poured into a pair of two-tone jeans for “Sleepwalking,” a neglected indie released July 8 on DVD. Theron plays Joleen, a single mom with no money or job prospects but plenty of moxie. She drops in, unannounced, on her brother, James (Nick Stahl), when her current beau gets picked up for selling drugs.

But Joleen isn’t long for James’ home. She splits, leaving James to manage her daughter, Tara (AnnaSophia Robb). James can barely make it to work on time each morning, so he’s hardly equipped to handle a petulant teen. Good thing his heart is as pure as Joleen’s is cloudy. He makes do with his limited skills, getting counsel along the way from a fellow worker (Woody Harrelson). James eventually reunites with his vicious father (Dennis Hopper), but the plan is doomed from the start.

“Sleepwalking” is so bleak for so long it’s a minor miracle we’re still hanging in there by the final reel. Stahl gives a warm, understated performance as a man whose sense of compassion outstrips his ability to make his way in society. And young AnnaSophia rises above her character’s hard-headed exterior. She’s a real find.

Director Bill Maher ensures his talented cast looks and sounds as authentic as the austere setting, but he’s undercut by a ill-conceived third act. The characters have nowhere to grow in “Sleepwalking,” so they end up going nowhere. And, ultimately, so does the movie.

(Photo: AnnaSophia Robb and Dennis Hopper play estranged relatives in the dour drama “Sleepwalking”)

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