When you create a film and title it “Sleeping Beauty,” you had better not make it boring. Otherwise, you’ll get reviews utilizing every possible play on the word “sleep,” but more importantly, word of mouth will spread using the same types of puns. When you use a title made famous by the Disney animation, you’re going to have to guard against those comparisons as well. As you can see, this film is already on the defensive.
To put even more pressure on “Sleeping Beauty,” before it has even begun, is the fact that it is the directorial debut of a novelist. Julia Leigh also wrote the screenplay, but it is her first time stepping behind the camera to helm a film production. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means an even bigger risk was taken by the studios, and just as many debuts fall flat as they do flourish. Luckily, Leigh’s is a success, even if her film isn’t going to be something that many people are going to enjoy.
To start the film, we begin by watching the daily routine of a young woman named Lucy (Emily Browning). The first scene made me cringe, as we find out that one of her many jobs involves testing out medical equipment. We watch a tube being inserted down her throat. This is done in one unflinching shot that has the opposite effect on the viewer. Later on, we learn she also does office work and works at a restaurant, but the medical testing was by far her worst job.
Why does she need to work three jobs? That’s really a good question. We learn that she’s behind on her rent, and also goes to school. Maybe school is really expensive, but she only seems to have one class, which can’t be too heavy a burden. She’s renting a room from people she knows, and I wouldn’t think that would be that expensive either. Why she doesn’t pay her rent on time, I’ll never know. This isn’t a film that’s going to lay things out for you.
Because working three jobs isn’t enough for Lucy, she inquires about an ad in the paper that requires her to serve dinner to old rich men while wearing lingerie. It pays $250 an hour, although it’s freelance work, we’re told. She works once, and after she gets home, she burns a $20 bill. Why? Again, I don’t know, and it’s actions like this that make me think she isn’t wanting for cash. Regardless, working multiple jobs, including the dinner-while-wearing-lingerie one, continues for most of the film, even as her performance gets so bad that she sometimes sleeps on the floor while working.