The release of Sleeping Beauty last year, whilst quite well advertised, went pretty much unnoticed at the cinemas. I kept my eyes pealed for its release after hearing about it on a Radio 4 film podcast. I was intrigued by the idea of the film, even more so after learning the lead role went to Emily Browning; best known for her role as Babydoll in the beyond awful Sucker Punch. After seeing LOVEFiLM add Sleeping Beauty to its instant streaming service, I seized the opportunity to watch it without having read any reviews from my peers.
Sleeping Beauty stars Emily Browning as Lucy; a university student who takes a number of menial jobs to fund her studies (waitressing, photocopying, a voluntary test subject for science experiments). After seeing an advertisement for a lingerie waitress in a student newspaper, Lucy is asked to attend an interview for something much more than that. Initially serving brandy in her underwear, she is soon given the task of a Sleeping Beauty: being voluntarily sedated to become completely submissive to male clients (“we have only one rule: no penetration”). This new role frequents her life, until she one day decides to discover what really happens when she is asleep.
There is an ample amount of nudity in this film which, despite what some critics say, I found to be completely unerotic. Lucy’s detachment and nonchalance to her predicament gives Sleeping Beauty a sleepy, dream-like quality. Nothing seems real as Lucy’s passive aggressive nature bubbles away beneath the surface, finally erupting in the climax following her discovery of a cigarette burn. Lucy’s desire to find out what really happens to her whilst she’s asleep gets the better of her, resulting in a quietly powerful ending.
Sleeping Beauty shows a glimpse of Lucy’s many relationships, although none of the characters are particularly well established. She has a fraught relationship with her flatmates, resulting in her eventually moving out. Her friendships are bizarre, one in particular is with friend known simply as Birdman (Ewen Leslie) is difficult to label: he is evidently in love with her, she appears to lead him on despite having no intention of being with him even though she asks him to marry her. Underdeveloped characters like this make the film feel unfinished and a little amateurish, undermining any clever techniques employed throughout.
I’m not quite sure what to make of Sleeping Beauty: although interesting at times, it’s mainly disturbing. The voice of director Julia Leigh in her debut is a little uncertain; it is difficult to understand what message she is trying to get across. Exploring the seedy underworld of the upper class who like to throw around an unconscious, naked young lady and do whatever they like to her contrasts against Lucy’s seemingly feminist personality. Independent and intelligent, Lucy’s choices seem uncertain and unjust. Although, of course, this could be Leigh’s point entirely. Either way, Sleeping Beauty feels a little rough around the edges to be a finished product.