We all know it, even the women: Jessica Alba is one hot young woman. She epitomizes good-looking in the 21st century. Most men would risk the herpes rumor just to have one night with her. And that's why I risked everything - and I mean everything - by watching The Sleeping Dictionary, a movie I neither needed to nor particularly wanted to watch, other than to see Alba walk around half naked the entire time.
The Sleeping Dictionary is about a young, uptight British officer who is sent to Sarawak under orders from the government. There he finds a native culture unlike anything he's ever known, and an incredibly beautiful girl named Selima (Alba) who, by chance, has been selected to be his "sleeping dictionary," his guide to learning the local language, and his personal concubine. Now, most men would take full advantage of this situation, but John (Hugh Dancy), with his conservative values, denies Selima at first, causing plenty of tension and fighting between the two. But as they slowly become more accustomed to one another (i.e. screwing), John finds himself falling in love with this girl who is completely off limits, at least in an emotional sense. While his duties lead him to a British girl, his heart remains with Selima, but will they and can they ever be together?
The movie is a surprisingly decent romantic drama set against a backdrop of British expansion into innocent "native" lands. It is quite clear that writer/director Guy Jenkin wanted to make a sweeping epic out of his picture, but he just isn't the right man for the job. His film is entertaining and presents likable and interesting characters, and the romance between Alba and Dancy is believable. The chemistry between the two is good, and that alone makes The Sleeping Dictionary enjoyable.
There's just something missing from the film. It lacks a certain edge needed for a period piece such as this, and the movie comes off just a bit too much like an excuse to highlight Alba's looks. It's not that Jenkin flaunts her looks, but The Sleeping Dictionary seems built around the capabilities of Alba. No offense to Alba, but she's no Meryl Streep. Perhaps at some point she will be able to power a drama herself, but right now, and especially a few years ago when this film was released, her acting capabilities are a bit limited. The Sleeping Dictionary, overall, feels a bit light and fluffy, which seems to match quite well to Alba's performance. It's not that she's bad - she's actually quite decent here - but there is something about the whole screenplay, casting and acting that don't seem quite right for a movie looking to be a sweeping, epic, period piece drama.
The Sleeping Dictionary is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable little romantic drama, but it isn't a movie that could have ever won awards. There is a little bit of sex and nudity throughout, for those who are interested, though it is quite clear that Jessica Alba used a double for those scenes. It's still nice to pretend, isn't it?
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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