Sunday, April 01, 2012

Sleeping Beauty

Checking For Flaws

With the re-imagination of fairy tales such as the take on Little Red Riding Hood and two upcoming snow white movies in Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsmen, filmmakers are digging deep into fairy tales for inspiration for their stories, giving them a little twist to the characters and scenarios, that sometimes court a little more controversy like in this case.

At first glance, this film is likely to be mistaken for a fantasy adventure for elite club old men, who maintain a hush hush membership to a somewhat clandestine dining club where they are served by naked women, and then for those who want to, get to spend some alone time as well with the girls. The catch however is that these girls are given a tea to drink prior to the nights accompaniment, that sort of works like a date rape drug, but the pact that the old men have to promise to adhere to, is that there should be no penetration. But who's there to check anyway?

Writer-director Julia Leigh in her debut feature puts us there like a fly on a wall, with that exclusive sneak peek into what goes on behind those bedroom doors, but alas like the pact the old men have to keep to, we don't get to see anything in exchange for some privacy, where the narrative fades to black as things get a little more risque. And what we do get to see in having our voyeuristic tendencies fed, is plenty of Emily Browning in the titular role, being moved around, abused even, in her birthday suit, and one wonders if she's really fast asleep given the sick things these men have up their sleeves, and whether their promises of not sticking it in will be kept. All that we're getting is a tease, and suggestion, with little else on offer.

Browning plays a poor university student desperate to make some money on the side, and we don't actually get to see whether she gets paid for spending the nights with random strangers picked up from bars. Her house-mates don't like her for not paying rent on time, and she spends half the time on campus looking for jobs, or sustaining her waitressing one during the nights, or volunteering for some health probes and screening just to earn a quick buck. Opportunity knocks in the form of a job under Clara (Rachael Blake), where discretion is key and expectations get set, and she's to maintain her nubile body and not abuse it with smoke, drink or drugs, which of course this girl of the night finds it hard to do without. Whatever free time also gets spent on a man (Ewen Leslie), with whom she seems to be sustaining a strange, domesticated relationship as well.

We journey with her into her new job, and get to see various old men taking her to bed, treated like a piece of meat. Naturally throughout the course of making it good and getting paid handsomely for her efforts, curiosity will creep in and comes in the form of a spy camera, which she installs during one of the forays to capture and witness for herself how her body would get abused. This set up promises to shock during the end, but all we get is a whimper instead after all the expectations built into the narrative given its premature transitions (at least to audiences wanting more) to the next scene.

Some may say that this may have touched upon the theme of empowerment of her sexuality, but I would prefer to go as far as saying this is like the Emperor's New Clothes. There isn't nearly anything much to see, and the narrative is pretty bland. We spend more time ogling at what's going on because it's so in-your-face and the desperation of the old men somewhat hilarious as well, though we're probably wishing we have membership to such an exclusive club, than to try and peer beneath the veneer of ostentatious clubs. One wonders what Browning sees in the role other than to announce her hastiness in wanting to arrive in the big leagues, thinking that going without clothes could probably fast track her career as the fearless actress willing to bear all for an arty role. She plays her character convincingly, although I'm not quite sure if Sleeping Beauty would give her the mileage she expected to receive.

As a first film, it is daring, bold and provocative, but if you'd sit back and think about it, you're likely to feel, what's the point in this more style than substance film?

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