Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Review: Lullaby Before I Wake

  • Directed by Nate Pantumsinchai
  • Starring Dean Shelton, Maiara Walsh, Tawan Saetang
  • Limited release on October 23, 2007 at the Lido cinemas in Bangkok
  • Rating: 3/5
Let's try this again.

Not very often does a film comes along, that's made in Thailand, by a Thai director, that is scripted in English, and features American actors.

But such is the case with Lullaby Before I Wake, an independent, existentialist teen romance that was shot in Bangkok and has been screening since October 23 at the Lido cinemas in Siam Square. It's still showing, though it is down to about two screenings a day. So catch it while you can.

The director is Nate Pantumsinchai, an American-schooled filmmaker who says he made the film in English because he was most comfortable writing the screenplay in that language.

It stars Dean Shelton as Billy, a mopey college senior who is having the kind of existential crisis that geeky guys his age tend to have if they have not yet found a girlfriend. The only thing that gives him any possibility of good cheer is seeing a pudgy kid with thick glasses, and he figures there's no way a guy like that could have a girlfriend. But, sure enough, a girl to match the rotund nerd appears out of the woodwork, sending Billy into a spiral of depression, thinking life is a bunch of crap. So what's the use anyway?

Escaping the suffocating isolation of his dorm room, he walks to a coffee shop, and it's on that walk that he first sets eyes on Megan, a willowy, blue-eyed princess right out of a Disney cartoon (indeed, Megan is portrayed by Brazilian-born Maiara Walsh, from the Disney Channel's Corey in the House). But there's no way a guy like him could ever have any hope of even talking with a girl like Megan.

Even more desperate, Billy signs up for a class trip to the beach, not knowing that's it's actually a freshman class trip. His roommate, Johnny (Tawan "Jibby" Saetang), relates the bad experience he had on the trip when he was a freshman. Sure, there were girls on the trip, but they were also the ones who were later stepping on him as the entire busload of kids were crammed into one hotel room.

Trying to sleep, but can't because of the noisy partying, Billy wanders down the beach, and, not watching where he is going, he trips and falls. Watching the whole adventure is none other than Megan, who comes over and at first offers Billy her hand, but instead sits down. Billy and Megan end up sitting and talking the whole night. Did it really happen, or was it just a dream?

The entire film seems to take place in dreamlike state. Though it is later established that Megan is indeed real, in Billy's mind she is even more real, just because she touched his arm at the beach. Through actual and some hilarious imagined scenarios, Billy thinks he is getting closer to Megan. He takes an interest in an unnamed Italian film she watched (8 1/2 perhaps?), goes to an art gallery with her and lets her borrow a CD. But in reality, she is a young woman who cannot be tied down. Though she attends classes, she is not enrolled, and she flits about, in her bare feet and Bohemian-style skirts and tank tops. Her talents seem endless, stretching from music and art, to an ability to relate to anyone, irregardless of language, age or occupation. Billy is barely comfortable in his own skin. That he's outclassed by Megan is apparent to everyone, except him. Will he ever snap out of it?

The existentialist musings recall the films of Richard Linklater. I've seen Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, so I can't compare it to the two others that are probably closer to this - the romances Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. There's probably some Aronofsky in there somewhere, too, though I wouldn't really know for sure. I can say for sure that I think it is similar to Rushmore and other films by Wes Anderson, in that it is set in a precious, seemingly carefully calculated world of its own. It's filmed at an international school in Bangkok, but the city as a character is only fleeting. Anyway, the setting isn't the point - it could be anywhere. The feelings Billy has are universal, and I could relate. More of a character in the film is the music, mainly by one band, the Japanese alternative rockers, Oblivion Dust, who provide the song, "Lullaby", appropriately enough, and several other tracks.

Technically, the film is good looking, with interesting camera movement and artful lighting and editing. Dialogue-wise, it is almost unceasingly chatty but enjoyably light, and it's almost squeaky clean. One F-bomb is dropped, making Lullaby Before I Wake a PG-13 if it were screened in the US. Oh, and Megan smokes a cigarette in one scene. What will Maiara Walsh's Disney fans think of that?

More information:


  1. This must be the film I inadvertantly ended up watching with a couple of Thai festival programmer types some time back.

    You say: "The existentialist musings recall the films of Richard Linklater."

    I say: The existentialist musings recall Dawson's Creek.

    You know I'm right ...

  2. I do know. But not having watched a single episode of Dawson's Creek, I'll have to take your word for it.


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