Apr 1, 2015

Review: Wide Awake (1998)

Wide Awake was the second film that fledgling writer/director M. Night Shyamalan did after Praying with Anger. That raises the question of, Shyamalan did movies before The Sixth Sense? Apparently he did. For real though, I don't think many people know that Shyamalan directed and wrote this 1998 family comedy/drama in the first place, let alone know that it even exists. It got me thinking about what kind of bizarro universe we're in where there's an M. Night Shyamalan movie with Rosie O'Donnell in it? It hurts my head just thinking about it. 

Like all M. Night Shyamalan movies, Wide Awake has spiritual themes. There aren't any supernatural underpinnings like there are The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable or The Village though. It might be hard to believe, but this is straight up family-themed comedy/drama with a little bit of coming-of-age as a side platter. It was actually filmed in a school that Shyamalan attended himself and his parents were on-board as associate producers. Withheld from release for three years for some reason, it didn't make a lot of noise at the box office.


Genre: comedy, drama, family
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Produced by: Cathy Konrad, Cary Woods, Randy Ostrow, etc.
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Music by: Edmund Choi, Shok
Running time: 88 minutes
Production company: Miramax, Woods Entertainment
Distributed by: Miramax, New Films International, Buena Vista International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $6,000,000
Box office: $282,175 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Joseph Cross, Timothy Reifsnyder, Dana Delany, Denis Leary, Robert Loggia, Rosie O'Donnell, Camryn Manheim, Vicki Giunta, Julia Stiles, Heather Casler, Dan Lauria



Joshua Beal (Joseph Cross) is now in fifth grade at Waldron Mercy Academy, a private Catholic school for boys. His grandfather (Robert Loggia) died not too long ago which greatly affects him since he spent so much time with him. Despite his young age and skepticism from those around him, Joshua decides to embark on a journey to "find God" and make sure that his grandfather is alright.


I'm not a very religious guy to be honest, but I totally respect people's faiths and beliefs in higher powers and such. Everyone's allowed to believe in something and that's cool. That being said, Wide Awake is the type of movie that is sure to speak far louder to someone who believes in God than someone who doesn't like me. But besides WA and me being on different pages in terms of religion, there are some other pretty significant issues with the film that can't be ignored.

The number one issue is just how sticky and sappy M. Night Shyamalan has made this movie to be. Shyamalan seems completely unable to find that sweet spot of credible drama without falling into weepy melodrama which is too bad. Obviously the death of one's grandfather is a sad event, but not the way it's overblown like this with flashback after flashback. Many young man tears are shed in Wide Awake and I'm afraid none of them add an iota of emotional credibility.

Throughout the entire movie, I'd say only about two scenes are able to avoid getting stuck in Shyamalan's mushy creation and actually say something meaningful. There's a scene where Joshua has a conversation with Father Peters (Dan Lauria) for example about his own quest to find God and it's actually pretty sincere. Father Peters looks for God when he can and says that "Doubt is a part of everyone's journey," or something to that effect. That's probably the highlight of insightfulness in Wide Awake.

When it comes to main character Joshua Beal, he's ten years-old but he talks as if he's thirty. He has lots of "deep" things to say as he narrates the whole way through, trying to figure out where to find God. It's one of those things that I absolutely hate about movies. No matter how much you'd like them to, kids don't talk like little adults. They sound ridiculous talking adults. Please don't make them talk like adults. Kids don't know what "biological reactions" alright? 

Shyamalan even shoots himself in the foot when he makes wordsmith Joshua says "revilization" during a moment of clarity. Why? Because he's a kid who doesn't know that he's combining realization and revelation. Perhaps this was meant as a moment of comedy, but like many other attempts at comedy in Wide Awake it feels forced and laugh-free. 

Curious to know how Rosie O'Donnell fares? That's kind of the main point here right? Well she does fine I suppose, but her character feels painfully out of place. A fast-talking, sport-loving nun in a Catholic private school? It's a little bit hard to take seriously but again, I do think she does a good job at what she was tasked in doing. It's not her fault the whole idea is completely silly now is it?

Clearly, Wide Awake is not M. Night Shyamalan at his best. Comedic moments didn't really strike a chord with me and the dramatic moments unfortunately mostly fall into melodrama. I think Shymalan is trying a bit too hard to get a tear out of viewers and it's extremely hard to be able to take many of the characters he's created very seriously. I can now understand why Wide Awake was left twisting in the wind for three years before being released. It's just really not that good.



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