Movie Reviews

Sleeping Beauty: Strangely beautiful

By Zaki JufriMovies - 21 March 2012 7:00 PM

Sleeping Beauty: Strangely beautiful

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Rating: 2 stars out of 5

The Buzz: “Sleeping Beauty” received some mixed reviews when it was first screened at Cannes last year—some critics gave it a warm reception while others were shocked by its sordid look into the sex life of a young lady. Mia Wasikowska was initially slated to helm the movie but she dropped out to take on “Jane Eyre” instead; which is not a bad deal as we get to see a lot of the “Sucker Punch” star in the buff.

The Stars: Emily Browning, Ewen Leslie, Rachael Blake

The Story: Browning stars as Lucy, a college student who ends up in a high-end prostitution ring specializing in bizarre and very discreet fetishes. The clients are mostly affluent geriatric men who have a form of necrophilia (look it up) fetish. So Lucy takes a heavy sedative and while she’s out cold, allows the men to have their way with her, and she remembers nothing in the morning. thinks:  The most tellingclue that “Sleeping Beauty” is not a Disney remake is its poster: The auburn-haired, alabaster-skinned Emily Browning under the covers in her birthday suit gazing back at you. Part art-house movie and part soft-porn erotica (as if there’s ever a difference), “Sleeping Beauty” is perhaps the boldest movie that starlet Browning has starred in.

Browning plays ingénue Lucy, a college student who fills her days with a variety of menial jobs: lab rat, pub waitress, office drone. By night, she flits through cocktail lounges and chooses men to sleep with and where.

In between these activities, she regularly visits the bedsit apartment of a local alcoholic, known only as Birdman (Ewen Leslie).

One day, she gets a new gig: A lingerie-clad server to a Kubrickian-Eye-Wide-Shut-type soirees. She wins a promotion one day--to Sleeping Beauty (hence the film’s title)--and under the watchful eyes of Madam Clara (Rachael Blake), she agrees to be sedated for several hours at a time. What she doesn't know for sure is that each time she sleeps; an elderly man has his way--but not completely--with her. Two rules: No penetration, and don't leave any marks. Easier said than done.

Ironically, the only 'penetration' we get to see in the movie is in its opening minutes.

From start to finish, “Sleeping Beauty” is a mesmerizing, disturbing and yet vexing piece of work from novelist-turned-filmmaker Julia Leigh.

First time director Leigh, while producing this film has found quite an influential backer: Another filmmaker in the form of mentor Jane Campion. Like Campion’s previous films (“The Piano”), “Sleeping Beauty” revolves around a central ‘fairytale’ figure of feminity. Browning’s Lucy plays such a character—one of an ‘unconscious’ figure lingering on the brink of sexual self-awareness.

Leigh conjures up a consistently moody, dreamy tone; filling up scenes with pregnant pauses and lingering takes that gives the film a somewhat voyeuristic air. Frustratingly, Leigh refuses to let us in (at least a bit) on where she’s taking us in this experience.

There’s not enough character development to make us really care about the people involved such as Lucy, the Birdman or even the geriatric clientele.

Emily Browning gives a solid performance, and is ideal for the role with her babydoll-like appearance. Cool and composed, she plays detached Lucy to perfection. Her ability to completely restrain herself is admirable and fits right into the context of the film.  For the prudish, there is no escaping the nudity in this film—at times it’s so in-your-face that you either cower or grit your teeth through it.

With a strong psychosexual theme and a languid pace, “Sleeping Beauty” is likely to split audiences between those who can embrace its peculiarity and those who simply find it too hollow.

The art-film label does get the filmmakers a get out of jail card but such labels might also be a film’s passport straight to the bargain bin; especially when all it offers is scene upon scene of an often naked actress subjected to acts of creepy debauchery.