Wylie Writes @ Hot Docs 2014: Hunky-Dory Heartbreak Doc

Sleepless in New York (DIR. Christian Frei)


By: Addison Wylie

There’s narration – nay – lots of narration in Christian Frei’s Sleepless in New York from lonely people who have been dumped.  The voiceovers wear thin after a while, but they do serve a purpose.

The doc is a film that gets “the break-up” right.  Frei is fortunate to have received good applicants from his open casting call (street-laden flyers inviting heartbroken souls to participate), and those individuals are able to open themselves up naturally.

Sleepless in New York is able to superbly personalize those feelings of desertion and anxiety we’ve all felt after a major breakup.  The filmmaker takes matters further by welcoming anthropologist Helen Fisher to introduce psychological theories that explain the hurt and why we react the way we do.  Her opinions are astounding and the results she delivers are unbelievable.

The film focuses on three individuals: one female, one male, and one other female who had a lustful encounter which turned into a missed connection.

The subjects use that aforementioned narration to relay their coping processes to the audience.  Sometimes these poe-faced readings work.  Alley’s recollection of past vacations with her ex-beau are happy for her to remember, but painful as well.

Then, there’s Michael – who I’m sure meant well.  His presence in the documentary nestles tightly to those post-breakup deliveries.  However, there’s a clear difference between what sounds good in text and what it sounds like out loud and stiltedly directed by Frei.

It’s during these instances where the filmmaker seems to be looking for the poetry in his topic, which is besides the point.  Sleepless in New York works best when its letting the people do the talking with silences.  Most of Michael’s narration could be nixed because he tells his story during his quiet moments, which have a survival vibe to them which is grossly affective.

Overall, Frei’s doc is a very good watch with little to complain about.

Catch Sleepless in New York at Toronto’s Hot Docs International Film Festival on:

Wednesday, April 30 at 9:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Thursday, May 1 at 9:30 p.m. @ Hart House Theatre

Sunday, May 4 at 1:30 p.m. @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Click here for more details and to buy tickets.

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