This lemon has nipples
Imagine, for a moment, that it is your job to write scripts. You have just finished your latest script – it is proudly storyboarded in your office, fresh and full of brilliance after a week of hard work. You leave the final draft pinned up, ready to be transcribed into a safe, digital form the following day. That night, a terrible fire sweeps through your offices and your script is all but ruined. You find that the second half of the film is entirely gone, and every third scene in the first half is now ash. Your reputation is good and you know you don’t have time to rewrite it all. So, in a fit of rage and nihlism, you submit the script, ashes and all. Somehow, it still gets picked up by the producer, and your film is made.
If this is the origin story of Sleeping Beauty, then I’m OK with what happened earlier this evening. However, if the writer actually planned to write such an utterly disjointed film, they are either very pretentious or just not very good at their job.
The concept is this: Lucy is a uni student that earns money on the side with a bit of classy prostitution. It all seems pretty casual but then she is hired by a firm that has very elite clients, with very specific needs. So specific that she must be drugged and unconscious for the full time of her liason with said client. Lucy initially consents because the pay is good, but increasingly is tortured by curiosity – what goes on while she is asleep?
Great concept. Pity about the delivery, and the failure to deal intelligently with the wide range of themes the idea engenders.
Sleeping Beauty is all tease, but this is only partly intentional. The dialogue is very sparse (similar to other recent Aussie films like Snowtown and Mad Bastards) and the scenes flit from place to place quite erratically. You are left to put the pieces together, all the while building your anticipation and sense of dread. This process really drags you in, and you follow for ninety minutes in a sense of morbid curiosity. Your fascination will start out genuine, but as the film progresses it may settle on such questions as:
When will it start making sense?
When will we see some character development, or perhaps a bit of context for everything that is happening?
Then it ends, and you walk out feeling like you got half a massage and the other half of you is still tight. Watching Sleeping Beauty is like meeting a person that seems really interesting, who then turns out to be a vapid try-hard once you get to know them. The tease is all there is, and instead of it drawing you into something ominous and substantial (which it does very well at promising) it just loses momentum and becomes increasingly disparate and empty.
The lead actor, Emily Browning, is convincing for a while. She is strikingly beautiful, and her youthful looks add to the film’s mild shock factor – she does spend a fair bit of time nude in the film and you might find yourself casually wondering if what is happening is legal. She carries off the angst-ridden ‘damaged girl’ thing pretty well until you realise that that’s all she has – her character does not develop and the silent teen angst thing starts to get tired and obstructive to the plot. I found myself wondering if her performance was partly so impressive because it didn’t take much acting.
The one thing that could’ve redeemed this film with a bit of work is the way it deals with sexuality. Browning is gorgeous, but this is a deeply unsexy film, and in spite of being a young guy I at no point found it arousing. If anything, it emphasised how dehumanising and ugly prostitution can be. Lucy gets a very frank inspection by her employers, and then in subsequent preparation for work the shots cleverly places emphasis on single body parts being cleaned and pampered. The feeling this creates is that she is an object being polished and maintained, not unlike a beloved appliance or an expensive piece of furniture. The feeling is even stronger when we see how her clients manipulate her limp body as they act out their weird fantasies. This is fascinating and very poignant, but then they don’t do anything clever with it, and it is left hanging. Like a hipster throwing intellectual jargon around, the value of this strong idea is not really used for anything; it seems that it’s just there to show off knowledge and cash in on the edginess. How dire.
Cannes, we cannot be friends anymore. Since you started wearing cravats and applauding Mel Gibson films you’re just not the same.