Review: The Sleepless

Year: 2020
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Writer/Director: Michael DiBiasio-Ornelas
Stars: Nyambi Nyambi, Rebecca De Ornelas, Ajay Naidu, Masha King

By Bianca Garner

With a title like “The Sleepless” one may first assume that Michael DiBiasio-Ornelas’ latest film is a horror film. Instead, it’s a wonderfully relatable comedy which follows two thirty-somethings, Zach (Nyambi Nyambi) and Sophia (Rebecca De Ornelas), who are both struggling with insomnia. When the pair meet each other randomly at 3AM, in the only spot nearby open for coffee, they decide to share each other’s company in the early hours of the city that apparently never sleeps.

DiBiasio-Ornelas’ well-written script is perfectly accompanied by the film’s two central performances. Both Nyambi and De Ornelas take these two characters and breathe life into them. They’re fully rounded and believable characters, with their own fears, anxieties, wishes and dreams. As we follow Zach and Sophia stroll down the streets of New York, they discuss a range of topics, having in-depth conversations about gender norms, the economic struggles of being a millennial and finding love in the age of the dating app. However, it’s not always so serious. Their conversations also include a discussion about which three books they would pick to take on a desert island which gets more complicated with every question from Zach.

The film’s opening is a brilliant introduction to our main characters and also captures the frustrations of insomnia. “Time will not hurt you” says the meditation app that Sophia is listening to. Of course, time won’t hurt us but our own thoughts will. Using cross cutting editing, we observe both Sophia and Zach trying to cope with insomnia, trying to go back to sleep, only to find themselves being unable to and resorting to watching TV. At the same time, they both decide to head to the local bodega run by the wonderfully charming and friendly Samir (Ajay Naidu) who instantly tries to set the two insomniacs up. “He’s a nice boy, just nervous” Samir explains to Sophia, who replies back with the excellent line, “I got enough nervous in my own head.”

“The film feels refreshing in the way it breaks down the stereotypes of the “meet cute rom-com””

There are so many quotable lines in this film, that I am eager to get my hands on the screenplay to give it a read so I can incorporate some of the lines of dialogue into my everyday life. So much of Sophia’s lines of dialogue feels incredibly relatable, in fact it’s often too relatable that it’s quite scary! “I don’t like being in my thirties and feeling hopeless” she confesses at one point. Yep, this is what I think on a daily basis. And, her monologue about the way society treats women had me nodding in agreement. De Ornelas also starred in DiBiasio-Ornelas’ previous film “The Videoblogs” and she’s wonderful here in “The Sleepless”. Her co-star Nyambi Nyambi is equally wonderful and they make a perfect on-screen pair, bouncing off each other and having brilliant rapport.

What is also remarkable about the film is its sense of realism. We have all had our own encounters with insomnia and loneliness. The film’s premises has emerged out of the director’s own struggles and experience with insomnia. During an early morning coffee run, the idea came to DiBiasio and he recounted in an interview, “What if two people met under these circumstances? The predawn hours can be so raw, and yet so simple. What if . . . such a pair also took a chance on each other?”

“So much of Sophia’s lines of dialogue feels incredibly relatable, in fact it’s often too relatable that it’s quite scary! “I don’t like being in my thirties and feeling hopeless” she confesses at one point. Yep, this is what I think on a daily basis. And, her monologue about the way society treats women had me nodding in agreement.”

With beautiful black and white cinematography from Tine DiLucia, the film evokes “Frances Ha” vibes, and in a lot of ways this feels like a Noah Baumbach picture. However, “The Sleepless” has more structure and a tighter runtime whereas Baumbach’s films sometimes meander off and lack plot. While some may argue that “The Sleepless” lacks a plot, it does feel a tighter and more compact film with a clear structure. This is an in-depth character study where we watch Zach and Sophia change by being each other’s presence. Both of them become less anxious and reserved, slowly unfolding and opening up to each other. Another film, which “The Sleepless” reminded me of was “Honeymood” that screened at last year’s LFF, and also followed a couple exploring the streets of a busy city in the night-time. However, “The Sleepless” has less slapstick and surreal humour, focusing more on smart, well-written comedic dialogue rather than overly complicated plot points.

The film feels refreshing in the way it breaks down the stereotypes of the “meet cute rom-com” which usually depicts a scene where two people who will form a future romantic couple meet for the first time, typically under unusual, humorous, or cute circumstances. Even though there is that sexual and romantic connection between Zach and Sophia, their relationship is so much more than just the usual romantic one. What they really need is a human connection, a like-minded person who shares similar views but is also their own person with their own perceptions and viewpoint on life.

At certain points along their odyssey into the night, Sophia and Zach encounter other people like a Russian Accordionist (Masha King) whose brief scene and interaction with the main characters is one of the highlights of the film. Sophia asks whether she can play anything sad. “I’m Russian” the musician replies back. “Are you drunk?” Zach also asks her, “Why aren’t you drunk?” she replies back. However, for most of the runtime we focus on just Sophia and Zach, and it’s a shame we don’t have just a little longer to see more of those also wandering the streets.

“The Sleepless” may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there will be those who find the long tracking shots of watching two characters talk, slightly boring especially as there’s a lack of action and conflict. However, for those who prefer their rom-com’s less conventional, they will be delighted to this new addition to the dismantling of the genre. It will be great to see what the talent get up to next.

“The Sleepless” is now Available on VOD.

All images used are from IMDb or the film’s site here https://www.thesleeplessfilm.com/

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