Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty is an interesting experiment. The film is intriguing for the most part, but not a particularly satisfying endeavour.
Lucy is a young University student struggling with money problems. Working several jobs to pay her way, Lucy answers an advertisement for a waiting staff at private parties. The money is good, but the circumstances are bizarre. The more Lucy becomes involved with the the secretive world, the more she begins to question what is really going on…
Sleeping Beauty does not follow a conventional format. As the opening scene illustrates, the film is more like a series of scenes rather than a cohesive narrative. Some of the sequences have little to do with the overarching narrative, choosing instead to concentrate on other aspects of Lucy’s life.
Perhaps the main problem with Sleeping Beauty is that it is difficult to relate to suitably empathise with the central character. Lucy is a cold character; there is little that is personable about her. Whilst the struggling student is not an unusual character type, Lucy’s detachment means that it is hard to warm to her. Although she may be pitied in some scenes, an attachment to the protagonist is never really formed.
Sleepy Beauty features an interesting premise that is never fleshed out in a satisfying manner. The job that Lucy does is very strange, yet this is only viewed through a blighted perspective. There is a little exposition that explains why clients may opt for the service, but even this is reduced to two brief conversations. Any sense of apprehension on Lucy’s part only appears much later than it reasonably should do. Moreover, the idea of providing a service for payment and doing the same thing for free is touched upon, but never explored in any further detail.
Julia Leigh’s film treads a line between exploitation and exposition. It is necessary to depict what Lucy does, as there is so little conversation regarding this. Yet at the same time, some depictions can be considered overly gratuitous. The cinematography works well however, with the film being shot in subdued tones in keeping with the sombre theme.
Emily Browning offer a solid performance as Lucy. It is an unusual role, but Browning does a good job. Rachael Blake is also good as Clara, a rather enigmatic character. She is the most fascinating character in the film, and it is a pity that she does not receive more screen time.
Sleeping Beauty is provocative in its ability to cause discomfort in viewers, but lacks the depth and coherence to make it a great drama.