The Mystery of Mashed Potatoes and Joe Jr. in While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping makes me sleepy. And I mean that in the best way possible. It’s a great holiday movie that my family would always include in our December movie repertoire, because Sandra Bullock was big in our household, but also, for a movie about miscommunication, a plot filled with deceit and near captures, and family drama, it is surprisingly stressless. Now, I feel like I can fall asleep to the gentleness of Chicago as portrayed in that 1995 film, can quote the dinner scene almost by heart: “These mashed potatoes are so creamy.” Almost wish I was sitting on the L train now. I never lived in Chicago, having grown up in Florida, but the sleeping Peter’s family somehow made me feel homesick for that Windy City. 

But one question persists from my family’s rewatches: Why did my mom identify so closely with Joe Jr.? A New Yorker herself, she’d speak up each time Sandra Bullock’s landlord’s creepy son, Joe Jr., came onto the screen to tell us that he did not seem like a Chicagoan at all but was instead from her side of the country. A real New Yorker. One that reminded her of half the guys from her high school, so she said. 


Maybe it’s the power of holiday movies that makes us feel at home no matter where they are set. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ll never understand the recognition my mom gets when she sees Joe Jr. hike up his pants while working on an old automobile in the freezing snow. Yet I still get sleepy watching that movie. Sleepy like I just finished eating a very large meal. Family together, like the old days. All in one place.

Joey Hedger is author of Deliver Thy Pigs (Malarkey Books, forthcoming) and In the Line of a Hurricane, We Wait (Red Bird Chapbooks). You can find him at, or looking for birds in Alexandria, Virginia, where he lives.

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