Sleeping Beauty

24 Dec

Title: Sleeping Beauty
Year: 2011
Director: Julia Leigh
Writer: Julia Leigh
Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie, Michael Dorman, Mirrah Foulkes, Henry Nixon
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 5 .4
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
Metacritic: 58

The streak of five great films I had watched in a row (The Artist, My Week with Marilyn, A Dangerous Method, Rampart and Shame) ends with Sleeping Beauty. Not to say this is a bad film, because it’s not, but it’s certainly not great. It is something of an ambitious debut from writer-direcotr Julia Leigh (it comes with the endorsement of Jane Campion, who’s great) a film that takes its own take on the Sleeping Beauty myth. And it’s an interpretation that couldn’t be more different than the Disney version we all know and love; instead it focusses on Lucy, a young university student who engages in many odd jobs in order to fund her studies, an incredibly passive girl, and as such the perfect candidate for a really strange kind of profession, one that will require her to be sedated, thus being in total submission for hey paying customers; effectively becoming a sleeping beauty.

Like I said, this is a pretty weird topic to tackle in your first try as a director. And Ms. Leigh certainly shows quite a bit of confidence in her approach to the erotically-charged story she’s telling, observing her characters and striking this very artsy kind of tonality to the whole film as we get to see what happens when Lucy starts becoming frustrated by the effects her new profession is having on her daily life and decides to find out what goes on when she’s asleep. The film then turns into a pretty damn enigmatic experience, not to mention that just how dreamy it all feels as we observe along with Ms. Leigh what happens to Lucy’s body lends this sort of detachment to the whole experience, which can be quite unnerving in a good way.

The thing is that, as surehanded as the approach by the first-time director may be, and well-done as many of the film’s aspects may be, the film still kind of leaves more than a few questions unanswered, and that makes it just seriously difficult to understand, and leaves it feeling kind of like a really well-done film, but one that ultimately also feels kind of pointless. Yet, it’s still quite fascinating to see this new take on a classic story unfold, in which the woman is no princess but just a lonely girl, in which the sleep is voluntary and for one night and not a hundred years, in which the men that come to see her sleeping are certainly no princes.

It’s kind of weird how Sleeping Beauty works, how it presents Lucy to us, a girl who’s just passing through life in a very passive kind of manner, getting low-wage jobs and a few sexual encounters in between them to fill in the shift. Then answering an ad to work as a lingerie waitress, serving gourmet foods to rich men, and then getting a promotion to that job that will have her knocked out for eight hours, at the mercy of men who can do anything to her so long as there’s no vaginal penetration or visible bruises. But the thing is that, as dutiful as Emily Browning is in the role (which was originally supposed to go to Mia Wasikowska, who left it in order to do the incredible Jane Eyre, which I gave an A to), she’s just an unconscious girl being trampled by males. In that sense, Ms. Leigh doesn’t really provide Lucy with a lot of motivation, making her a one-dimensional character who’s just an object to men, and not much more.

That was my biggest problem with this film, and normally a film with such a distanced character that has no real life story to her wouldn’t do it for me, but Ms. Leigh’s distanced and cold approach is there for a reason, so it kind of works out in the end, though it’s obviously not a huge success because you can’t really connect to Lucy. But still, the sheer basic premise is just really strong and can certainly survive whatever missteps the film takes, and it’s compelling to see how the director’s view of this world makes a film in which the protagonist spends much of the film naked turn out to be so sexless, the eroticism behind it all not really being palpable. That and the performance by Ms. Browning in which she seems like she doesn’t care about her life and what people do to her make Sleeping Beauty just a really interesting piece of filmmaking to watch unravel.

Julia Leigh certainly tried to make a film about some kind of empowerment, and it’s certainly a really ballsy debut. I just wished that she wasn’t such a guarded director, she just holds too many of her cards close to her vest, and the film, much like Lucy, feels untouchable. It’s a good film, for sure, not great because I couldn’t actually get into it, but worth a watch, and those moments in which we do get to see the many emotions Lucy is harboring underneath do feel much more affecting because of how dispassionate everything we had seen before them was, I just thought there weren’t enough of those emotionally vulnerable moments in this film. Still, this is a really unique take on the classic story, no princes and no happily ever afters involved.

Grade: B

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