Written and directed by Julia Leigh, Sleeping Beauty is the story of a young college student whose financial situation falls apart as she hears about a job. The job would require her to take on special erotic services for an escort service as she succumb to the demanding job. Starring Emily Browning, Rachel Blake, Ewen Leslie, Mirrah Foulkes, and Henry Nixon. Sleeping Beauty is a haunting yet mesmerizing film from Julia Leigh.
Lucy (Emily Browning) is a college student trying to make ends meet as she works as an officer aide and waitress while making more money as a human lab rat. Still, it’s not enough as she’s also taking care of her ailing friend Birdman (Ewen Leslie) until she sees an ad in a student paper for a job that pays $250 an hour. After calling for the job, she meets a woman named Clara (Rachel Blake) who interviews and gives her instructions about the job. While she starts out as a maid in skimpy lingerie for posh parties under the name Sarah as she works under the guidance of Sophie (Mirrah Foulkes). The job seems to go very well for Lucy as it helps her get an even bigger yet more exclusive job at Clara’s remote mansion.
Yet, Lucy has no idea what she’s in for after drinking a potent tea from Clara that puts her to sleep. Despite the grogginess of what she’s going through, she manages to make more money than she can imagine as she moves to a more upscale apartment. Still, she has to deal with Birdman’s worsening illness and the re-appearance of a former boyfriend (Henry Nixon) as her new job eventually starts to its toll on her.
The film is about a young college student who takes a job that will help her financial issues as she is eventually unaware of what she has to do later on. During the course of the film, this young woman is in need of money as she’s often pestered by a landlord for money while wanting to help out an ailing friend. Still, she is a young woman that wants to party and live the life of a college student. The offer to work for this rich yet elegant woman who essentially runs a sexual service of sorts where women wear very racy outfits to serve men things. At first, things become fun until this young woman has to do something very exclusive that she has no idea what she’s doing and no control at all.
The screenplay that Julia Leigh creates is definitely intoxicating for the way she studies this young woman in her struggle to get by as she takes on this job. Yet, Lucy remains this keen observer who is just wondering what to do in this first job while the job interview early on is far more intriguing. It’s really about what this young woman had to do as she is watched constantly by this woman who has strict rules about what Lucy must do. Even more startling is the fact that when Lucy is asleep, she has very strict instructions for the clients that are asking for her service. While the film doesn’t a lot of plot as it’s more about what a woman does with her new job and the consequences she has to suffer.
The lack of a conventional script would allow a director to do more in terms of bringing the narrative forward. Yet, Julia Leigh’s approach to the direction is more about control as she’s engaged into everything that is happening. While there’s not a lot of movement that goes on the camera work as it’s often framed in a careful manner. There is still something very entrancing to what Leigh does as a director though there are flaws to the direction such as the emphasize to fade out which becomes very annoying. The ending is another issue due to its ambiguity where it does leave things quite confusing depending on what someone might believe. Still, Leigh does create what is truly a compelling yet eerie film.
Cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson does an excellent job with the film‘s de-saturated look to give its look something that is a bit off-colored as well as to emphasize the stark mood of the film as it‘s shot on location in Sydney and other parts of Australia. Editor Nick Meyers does a very good with the editing to keep the film going with its methodical yet leisured pace though it goes way overboard with its unnecessary fade-to-black transitions.
Production designer Anne Beauchamp, along with set decorator Lisa Thompson and art director Jocelyn Thomas, does an amazing job with the set pieces created such as the naturalistic yet lush home of the party that Lucy serves to the gorgeous mansion that Carla lives including its secret room. Costume designer Shareen Beringer does a superb job with the costumes from the casual yet sexy clothing that Lucy wears in her college student part to the more racier look of the lingerie that Lucy has to wear as well as the models that wear more exposed clothing. Sound designer Sam Petty does a brilliant job with the sound work to emphasize the tense yet intimate setting of Carla‘s home to the busy area of Sydney. The film’s score by Ben Frost is good though his ambient score is mostly kept at a minimum as the film mostly doesn’t have any musical accompaniment.
The casting of Nikki Barrett is great as it features some notable small appearances from Hannah Wang as a classmate of Lucy, Henry Nixon as a rude ex-boyfriend of Lucy, Eden Falk as Carla’s assistant Thomas, and Mirrah Foulkes as the lead party servant in Sophie. In the role of the men that are Carla’s clients, Hugh Keays-Byrne is good as the third client while Chris Haywood is very chilling as the second yet more sadistic client. Then there’s Peter Carroll as the first client as he gives a very outstanding role as an aging man who feels lost in his old age. Ewen Leslie is excellent as Lucy’s ailing friend Birdman who loves having Lucy around as he’s the only friend she has.
Rachel Blake is superb as Carla, a mysterious woman who gives Lucy instructions while leading a service that is very strict and exotic while making sure Lucy is well and unharmed in a very ambiguous but mesmerizing performance. Finally, there’s Emily Browning in a brilliant yet haunting performance as Lucy. Browning’s performance is wonderfully restrained in the way she observes everything that happens as well as saying a few jokes to deal with her surroundings. While Browning had to reveal herself either in very skimpy lingerie or to be fully nude in varied portions of the film, it is definitely a brave yet entrancing performance for a young actress as it’s definitely the best thing Browning has done so far in her flourishing career.
Sleeping Beauty is a provocative yet haunting film from Julia Leigh that features a radiant performance by Emily Browning. While it’s a film that is definitely flawed while has a filmmaking style that not everyone will be engaged by. It is definitely a film that does try to take risks into the idea of what a woman will do while unknowingly take part in something that will raise questions about what women will do sexually. In the end, Sleeping Beauty is beautiful yet very dark film from Julia Leigh.
© thevoid99 2011
Dark and beautiful is right. But a little bit too distant and detached to really ring true. It will be interesting to see where Leigh goes from here.
I agree that there's a few issues about the film that kept it from being really amazing. I would hope the camera would move around more a bit to make it feel much looser. I hope Leigh can do something with whatever she does next. She just needs to loosen up a bit and not use fade-outs very often.
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