Sleeping Beauty DVD Review

There’s only one rule about sleep club, but I’d rather not talk about it.

Judging by the climactic scene of Julia Leigh’s disturbing Sleeping Beauty, I’m not the only one who feels like this.

A man wearing a white coat experiments with some test tubes in a laboratory before greeting a pretty wide eyed girl who sits down next to him and braces herself for the worst.

As the young doctor feeds some thin plastic tubing down her throat, Lucy does her best to not gag as he continues to probe deeper and deeper.

Why she’s doing this is unclear, but there must be better ways for Lucy to make money while she studies that don’t include playing a human guinea pig, waiting tables and occasionally falling asleep at her office job.

Well it turns out that there is.

Perhaps better is the wrong choice of word, but at least this new role gives Lucy money to burn.

Such is the life when your profession involves waiting on rich old men in your underwear as they taste the finest things this world has to offer.

Eventually, the allure of even more money sways Lucy into getting off her feet and out of what’s left of her clothing to lay down with some of her madam’s clientele of wealthy old men as a literal sleeping beauty.

Will Lucy awake from her chemically enhanced stupor, or will she stay comatosed to the reality of her choices for a hundred years or more?

The premise of a modern and disturbing take on a popular children’s fairytale awakened my curiosity in Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, not the posters of Emily Browning as the eponymous beauty.

Honest.

And while there’s plenty of potential for a great film here, it never scratches below the surface of the adult twist on the name of modern fairytale.

Browning plays Lucy, who perpetually comes across as damaged and fragile without any real exploration or reason for this.

This doesn’t matter at first, but the further our protagonist delves into the fantasy world for rich old men as nothing more than their rohypnoled plaything, the more this starts to grate.

We never understand why Lucy makes the choices she does, and consequently don’t really care what happens to her.

In a role such as this, Browning is as good as she can be; but as Leigh’s film unravels, so does the characterisation of Lucy.

Eventually, all we’re left with is a young, pretty actress who speaks and wears less for increasingly gratuitous reasons.

Perhaps this is the point though.

As Browning’s character becomes blanker with every passing scene, so it starts to feel that the true protagonist of Sleeping Beauty is the collective stream of men in her life, punters or otherwise.

We hear more of their back stories and reasons for hiring Lucy for the night than we do of her reasons for choosing this life, til their shared persona usurps Lucy as the dominant character for the film’s narrative.

Which is a shame, as the only interesting question is not why all these men want her but why Lucy chooses them.

By Sleeping Beauty’s third act, you get the feeling this is the one thing Leigh just didn’t want to talk about.

Jonathan Campbell

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February 2012
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