Review: Sleeping Beauty (2011)


[This film was originally reviewed as part of coverage for this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. You can easily keep track of the coverage here.]

Sleeping Beauty was not at all what I was expecting. Then again, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to begin with. Bearing no resemblance to what you might typically associate with the title, the film is an interesting look at the sex/fetish industry. However, simply being interesting doesn’t necessarily make a film any good.

Sleeping Beauty
Director: Julia Leigh
Rating: TBD
Country: Australia

Sleeping Beauty is about Lucy (Emily Browning), a young college student so desperate for cash that she signs up for those weird scientific experiments for money. After she sees an advertisement for a company for “silver service.” Run by business owner Clara (Rachel Blake), the service employs young women to dress in over-sexualized lingerie while they provide dinner service to rich, old people. However, as Lucy’s desperation for cash increases, so do the dangers of her job.

The first, and most obvious thing, to note is how sexy the film is. Whether Lucy is doing sex with random bar patrons or pouring out wine in barely-there lingerie, the film is overflowing with sexuality. However, all of it seems like it’s overcompensating for some missing aspect: the pacing. It can be argued that the film doesn’t start until awhile into it, with a good portion of the first half meant to establish background. Yes, I understand the importance of character shaping, but the overall film moves so slowly, then ends abruptly.

The acting is great, with Browning delivering a performance around detachment from reality, which kind of runs counter to the idea of acting. It’s actually really haunting how cold the overall film is. Other reviews praise this cold tone and overall detached feeling, but it put me off. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate thought-provoking films, but the aforementioned pacing made it feel TOO detached.

Sleeping Beauty is writer/director Julia Leigh’s debut, and it’s strong, for the most part. I don’t like to get too analytical in film reviews, but there’s good commentary being made on the dangers of cash desperation, the idea of old men paying for a service to re-experience the beauty of youth/young sexuality, and the underground of the sex/fetish industry. If any of that seems interesting to you, you might respond to Sleeping Beauty more positively. Really, it’s a beautifully shot film (as can be seen in the carefully chosen header image), but the rest of the film lags behind.