Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Denis Leary, Dana Delany, Robert Loggia, Joseph Cross, Timothy Reifsnyder and Rosie O’Donnell
In 1991, a full eight years before M. Night Shyamalan made The Sixth Sense and became one of the world’s most recognisable directors he wrote the script to Wide Awake. In 1995 the film was shot and completed and then it finally saw a release in 1998, the year before The Sixth Sense, to very little acclaim or reception. It’s largely been forgotten now, to the point that if you look up rankings of Shyamalan’s films you’ll find most of them ignore his two films from before The Sixth Sense. It’s a shame that Wide Awake has gone under the radar since its release. It’s a really good comedy and it deals with a lot of the things that Shyamalan would tackle again in later films.
Wide Awake is about ten year old Joshua Beal (Joseph Cross, Running with Scissors), whose grandfather dies and it leads him to question his own faith and he goes on a mission to find God and get some answers about death.
Much like Shyamalan’s later film Signs, Wide Awake is a character study into existentialism and a loss of faith. Instead of being put against the backdrop of an alien invasion, it’s a child learning to come to terms with the world around him and most importantly the death of a loved one. The film is mostly a comedy, but it does deal with some dark themes and has some heart-breaking moments. Joshua Beal goes to a Catholic school but can’t find the answers to his questions there.
Joseph Cross does an excellent job at carrying the film. His performances is moving and one of the best parts of the film. The rest of the cast is also great, especially Joshua’s classmates. They are funny and all play off each other.
There is a twist towards the end, which would go on to become the most recognisable aspect of Shyamalan’s work. It’s not his best twist and does push the film into a realm of over-sentimentalism but it’s still a good ending. It brings together everything the film has gives it a nice conclusion. It does end on a lighter note, which will be off-putting for some.
Shyamalan set out to write a comedy that would also make some people cry. It isn’t going to bring tears to your face, but it is a touching comedy with some great characters and definitely deserves more recognition than it receives. It’s funny and sentimental, but maybe a little too much at the end.