Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Sleeping Beauty, Emily Browning

It's a good thing she's asleep, because this guy tells the most boring stories, EVER.

Sleeping Beauty opens in Seattle on Friday, 12/9, and is screening at SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

I was SO excited for the release of Sleeping Beauty, not because I was confused and thought it was a live-action version of my favorite Disney adaptation, but because I am utterly, truly in love with Emily Browning. And I'm not gonna lie, any time you label a movie with Emily Browning in it as "erotic", I'm gonna be first in line to see it. Plus, I'm always excited about female writers and directors, so I was looking forward to seeing what Julia Leigh had in store. 

Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. The film starts by showing its main character, Lucy (Browning) in a clinical setting, forcing a long tube down her throat until she gags — this is NOT foreshadowing, as you might expect. Lucy appears to be a struggling University student who lives with a couple, one of which is verbally abusive to her and constantly demanding money (brother? other roommate's boyfriend? who may or may not be her sister? – it's not really explained). 

Lucy moves languidly from her unfulfilling office job to taking care of her tragic alcoholic friend (dude puts vodka on his Cheerios) to eventually getting hooked up with a high-priced call girl service that's obviously owned by David Lynch, specializing in lingerie dinner parties and women who are seen and not heard. 

She's quickly recruited by the sleek madam for a new desire: to become an inanimate plaything for rich old men. Lucy is drugged and then the men each strip down (there's not just female nudity in this, my friends – I mean, it's not exactly stimulating, but it's definitely NAKED!) and treat her in various ways, from gentle cuddling to humiliating abuse, to a show of strength in which she's thrown around like a rag doll. No big, though, as Lucy is out during the whole shebang and has no idea what's happened to her. 

It's never really clear what Lucy's motives are, as she burns some of the money she's paid, then purchases a ridiculously overpriced apartment, fitting in various one-night-stands with strangers when she's not serving platers of food in "lipstick that matches her labia" or slipping in-between silk sheets and passing out for a couple of hours. As her alcoholic friend starts to descend further into his darkness, Lucy's toughness starts to crumble, but good-god it takes an awful lot to break that icy exterior. Seriously, an AWFUL LOT. 

While Beauty is prettily composed and the acting was just fine, the overall effect left me feeling pretty empty. I realize that maybe that's the point Leigh was trying to make, but it just didn't work for me. I can't really recommend this to anyone, which is a shame – because I still think Browning is fantastic, and does her best with what's she given. 

Here's hoping Leigh's next film is a bit stronger.