Sunday, May 21, 2017


Gem (Glaiza de Castro) works as an outbound call center agent. Her repetitive daily routine consists of waking up to her alarm at 7 AM, taking the dreaded cold shower, commuting to work, selling broadband plans to irate customers, and taking the MRT back home before she settles on her bed alone to end her day. One morning she is introduced to Barry (Dominic Roco), a newbie agent who will shadow her for a week or so in order to get to know the demands of the job. They later realize that they reside at the same condominium. Both agree to meet at the rooftop and share boring anecdotes and random stories to battle their insomnia. As they get to know each other better, an unexpected friendship is formed. Could it develop into something more?

In terms of acting, there really is no need for something award-winning. There is a scene or two in which extreme emotion is necessary to convey the message. Neither de Castro nor Roco fails to deliver. In a film with roles that do not necessitate much hysterics, it’s the subtlety of the portrayal that accomplishes the task.

There are scenes in which de Castro is filmed on her bed from above, always assuming a fetal position but confined on one side, as if waiting for someone to occupy the other. This shot is shown again and again, as if trying to come up with a visual manifestation of the loneliness she is feeling, of being “incomplete”. In the end you see her in that familiar position still curled up like a baby, but claiming the entire bed for herself. The symbolism here is subject to interpretation, but we can assume that the infant pose is a metaphor for her yearning to be loved or taken care of. The fact that she eventually owned the whole space can be seen as some form of surrender, or perhaps, an epiphany that only she alone can make herself whole. And isn’t that ironic, further exacerbated by the fact that she lives in a megalopolis of more than a million people? Welcome to the club? Hahaha.

Personally, I like the de Castro’s take on Gem’s character. You see a beautiful woman who is more than capable of getting what she deserves in life, but opts for something subpar and borderline masochistic. Why? Because that’s what works for her. Each and every one of us is a product of our own life experiences. Sometimes when we engage in activities frowned upon by society, you realize deep inside that more than a form of rebellion, we do it because it’s the new normal. It’s what works. It’s what you are used to. And so no matter how you try to break away from such a self-destructive habit, you keep it anyway. Such vulnerability should not be an object of admiration, but you get to appreciate the people who are upfront about it. At least they know what makes them tick and they are not denying it.

The hypothetical zombie apocalypse question is hilarious on the surface, but dig deeper and you will realize how it serves as a glimpse of the two character’s personalities. Gem prefers the comforts of the familiar and will readily sacrifice mobility for the sake of security. Barry is the exact opposite. He would rather be vulnerable yet not stuck, exemplifying his adventurous nature.

You’ll see that neither of them manages to change the other’s mind, but at least there is a trace of one’s influence over the other, no matter how faint it appears to be. In a way, this looks like a reinforcement of the thesis that in life you have to meet people with different perspectives so as to see the world in a different light.

What you will appreciate most about Sleepless is how it does not ultimately turn out to be a love story, but rather that of two lives that temporarily intertwine for mutual support. It could have been marketed and presented via the tried and tested formula of the mushy rom-com, but where’s the fun in that? Devoid of gimmicks and big names, it succeeds in being a relatable narrative. It’s one of those movies that demonstrate the curse of our species, as well as the continuous evolution of conventions in human relations that do not really help in eradicating this flaw.

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