“The Sleepless” is drama and romance at its most elemental and charming — just two insomniacs, meeting and chatting on a long walk through the empty streets of Brooklyn at dawn.
Sometimes cute, occasionally touching and generally charming, it won’t go down as one of the great “just a conversation” films. The dialogue doesn’t paint glorious word pictures like “My Dinner With Andre” and isn’t tinged with the wistful hope of love of “Before Sunrise.” But the engaging leads make this meet-and-greet-and-debate romance worth losing yourself in.
Separately, they stare at their separate clocks, “3:00 a.m.,” “3:15 a.m.,” “3:45.” He (Nyambi Nyambi of TV’s “The Good Fight”) exercises, she (Rebecca De Ornelas) makes tea. Each resorts to ancient “Dick Van Dyke Show” reruns before they give up and make that 4 a.m. bodega run. That’s where they meet.
Why? Because all-night clerk/owner Vitek (Ajay Naidu of “Bad Santa” and TV’s “Blindspot”) is…helpful.
Zach is “not looking,” but Vitek urges him to open his eyes.
“How else do you find anything of value in this life?”
Sophia is leery, but Vitek’s “nice boy, a bit nervous, perhaps” disarms her.
It’s four o’clock on a Saturday morning. They’re not drunk or hungover or headed to work. Insomnia, fate, and Zach deciding to make an approach throws them together for an hours-long walk into the Brooklyn dawn.
“I’d rather be sleeping,” she confesses. “Always” he agrees.
His insomnia is a recent condition, and with no prodding he confesses “I never really knew sleep without alcohol.”
Hers is chronic and “I got tired of fighting it.” But true confessions time — “You want to know what keeps me up at night? Men. Fear of men.”
Not Zach, who is non-threatening and sensitive. Just men in general.
Over the course of their walk and talk, they will dissect their insomnia, break down what works and doesn’t work in their lives and share sitcommy profundities.
“Instagram quotes don’t work in real life.”
He jokes — “I know everything about you, Sophia.” She’s quick with a comeback — “Too soon.“
The debut feature of Michael DiBiasio-Ornelas isn’t particularly deep, but it gives us characters with shadings and flaws. The black and white cinematography paints Brooklyn in soft, romantic shadows. There are quirky encounters with an accordionist and barrista, and those are as predictable as the bits of bickering that enter our 30something couple’s dialogue.
Simple, inexpensive films like this without a lot of “plot” going on, are often passed off as “film festival movies,” without “names” in the cast or a genre that’s easy to sell (horror, action) to warrant a distributor picking them up.
But “The Sleepless” makes for a sweet, pleasant and thoughtful conversation overheard, and a reminder that people do “meet” each other and make connections, even in the forbidding city, especially in Brooklyn.
MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Cast: Nyambi Nyambi, Rebecca De Ornelas, Ajay Naidu, Leslie Silva and Masha King
Credits: Scripted and directed by Michael DiBiasio-Ornelas. A TSF release on Amazon Prime.
Running time: 1:17