Classic Film Review: Wide Awake (1998)

‘Certainly not a film which, if seen, provided evidence that the following year [M. Night Shyamalan] would be knocking on the door of the Oscars’

Success or Failure: M. Night Shyamalan

Wide Awake, 1998

Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan

Starring: Denis Leary, Dana Delany, Robert Loggia, Joseph Cross, Timothy Reifsnyder, Rosie O’Donnell

 

Wide Awake is a family-friendly children’s comedy about a young boy, Joshua (Joseph Cross), searching for God in a world after his grandfather, played by Robert Loggia, has passed away. Wait . . . Family-friendly children’s comedy directed by M. Night Shyamalan . . . Something seems a bit wrong. As bizarre as it may sound considering the nature of Shyamalan’s subsequent career post-Wide Awake, he didn’t necessarily start off as the supernatural-thriller director we all know today.

There are plenty of moments during Wide Awake where his ambition (of making a comedy that will make people laugh and cry simultaneously) is visible. There are some truly touching moments and even the nature of the plot, that he is seeking God’s attention to ask about his grandfather after his death, is genuinely nice. That being said, its humour isn’t necessarily that funny.

It is aimed at children more so than the parents who would be watching with the children, with plenty of flatulent jokes and characters who act silly rather than funny. Some moments, though, are really cleverly done, such as Joshua adapting any faith possible to get in touch with whatever god they believe in and the reactions of the Christian-led teachers are genuinely funny.

Wide Awake, 2

Some of the decisions in the film are a bit bizarre, such as having a teacher, played by Rosie O’Donnell, fixated on baseball and focusing her lectures around baseball terminology. While it was clearly intended to be a humorous trait for the character, it just comes across as lacklustre and showing a lack of creativity (it’s something you can find in almost any children’s comedy involving teacher characters). However, the writing of Joshua’s romantic feelings follows a nice plot: from questioning why the other boys want to sneak into the adjacent all-girls school (Joshua attends an all-boys school) to befriending a young girl and having his first moment of sexual awakening (phrased bizarrely which shows Shyamalan has been terrible at dialogue from the beginning); it follows a nice structure with a nice resolution. And that’s what I meant at the start: there are some really touching moments (the main one being Joshua’s relationship with his friends; from the bullies who eventually accept him to his friend who has a crisis and in that moment Joshua appears to help) but it’s saturated with cheap, lacklustre comedy. Some moments manage to hit the right notes but the rest fail quite flatly. Overall a fine early film, nothing special (which probably explains why he lost a large amount of money upon the film’s release), and certainly not a film which, if seen, provided evidence that the following year he would be knocking on the door of the Oscars.

 

Personal: * *     Acting: * *     Writing: * * *     Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * * ¼

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