Sleeping Beauty (2011)
(18) Running time: 104 minutes
Director: Julia Leigh
Writer: Julia Leigh
Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HC critic
So here it is the film where Emily Browning spends most of her time naked or in some teasing outfit, but she is expressionless and barely mutters a word. First and foremost the performance by Browning is staggering, being thrown into some rather horrid situations and having to lie naked on a bed while some 90 year old man lies on top of her is a lot to ask of any actress. Browning, if you remember, was not that long ago a very young star in the making in Lemony Snickets, and here she is a million miles from that family friendly tale. Sucker Punch, it would seem, has created a star!
Sleeping Beauty is a strange one, the trailer promised some real dark stuff, but the eventual film never really goes anywhere. People have compared the direction to that of Kubrick, but I don’t see it, this is an artsy film, don’t get me wrong, but usually with art comes a meaning, a point to the whole thing. Sadly, unlike many other reviewers out there, I just didn’t get this film, and it is a shame because there are moments of brilliance on offer here. Make no mistake, this is for the arthouse fan, those looking for a quick fix of Browning, and indeed a number of other girls in stockings and suspenders will get their fix, but it is whether they will have the patience to sit through long moments of silence and nothing really happening.
The plot, thin as it is, follows Lucy (Browning) a University student who also works in an office and as a waitress, likes to go out partying to tease would be sexual partners, has a relationship with a recovering alcoholic, doesn’t appear to get on with her family or flat mates, and needs more money. She offers up her services to a University science experiment, but with rent due, she has to find another way to make cash, and lots of it. She applies to work for Clara (Blake) the Mistress of a large manor where old, sad and lonely men come to eat dinner while being served by topless ladies. It is all very upmarket, and dinner etiquette is essential. The menu’s served are of AA Roseate style, and the old men barely raise an eyebrow as the girls serve them food and drinks. After dinner, they retire to the sitting room, drink brandy, smoke cigars and cuddle up with the girls, even tripping Lucy over for a bit of fun. Lucy passes the test, and soon is offered a way up the ladder to earn big bucks, the catch? She will be drugged, stripped naked and some lonely old man will share her bed for the night, and although no penetration is allowed, the old men behave in increasingly worrying ways.
One enjoys shouting what he would like to do to her, another likes to pick her up and drop her on the bed, it is all rather strange and a bit sad I suppose, but thankfully Lucy has no memory of what happens and is completely unconsciousness. She gets paid, the old men have a happy night and that is pretty much it. Lucy does spiral out of control in per personal life, staying out late, taking the odd bit of drugs and sleeping on the floor of her office, and Browning somehow creates a character that you can care for. She doesn’t talk much, and her expressions rarely change (this is intentional) but she is captivating. You do begin to wonder if she will ever burst out of her un-emotive state, clearly broken from a past we learn nothing about, but it doesn’t happen. We learn almost nothing about any of the other characters, and the final moments will irritate more than fulfil its obligation to end on something either truly dark and horrific, or something uplifting and satisfying. In fact, the end will almost make you feel cheated.
I guess there are hints here at someone who is drifting through life simply existing, but I really do not think this film is as deep as it thinks it is. It looks great, with the camera often sitting perched and not moving for an entire scene, and the lack of music gives the film a cold and slightly haunting atmosphere while the fact we do not know the characters that well makes the viewer feel like we are almost interrupting someone’s life. You will not walk away from this film feeling any different than before you started watching it, for me it barely left an impression other than the fact Emily Browning is very very attractive. As I said, some have either ‘got the point to this film’ or really read into it, for me, it looks good, the direction is a little slow at times but there is a quality to this film unlike anything else I have seen this year. I just didn’t see the point, and if there is a message in there, I missed it.