Beauty of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is only skin-deep

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, December 7, 2011 5:44pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

No prince awaits the protagonist of “Sleeping Beauty,” an enervated Australian film about a young woman slouching from one sexual transaction to the next.

This sounds like a female version of “Shame,” also opening today. But that movie has some driving need behind the hero’s relentless pursuit of sex; “Sleeping Beauty” features a main character who doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

The life of Lucy (played by Emily Browning) is revealed to us in a series of mystifying sequences. In one, she participates in a never-explained medical test; then she visits a sad-sack guy who lives alone; then she goes to work as a dronelike office assistant.

In her off hours (although they all seem to be off hours), Lucy enrolls in some sort of high-class prostitution service, run by a scrupulous madam (imperious Rachael Blake). Lucy’s introduction to this world is to pad around a dinner table in her underwear, serving wine for a group of tuxedo-clad, mostly elderly, swingers.

Being used as a sex toy doesn’t seem to affect Lucy in any particular way, and even though we know she needs the money, in one enigmatic scene we see her burning cash she earned from a job. So perhaps her journey is a medical experiment of her own, although if this character has any kind of conventional curiosity, we’re not let in on that either.

Emily Browning, the childlike actress who starred earlier this year in the 21-gun catastrophe “Sucker Punch,” is appropriately sedated-looking throughout the film, except for a couple of moments when we are to assume that she has reached some sort of basic level of feeling.

The problem is, the movie is likely to have a similarly sedating effect on the audience. Despite frequent amounts of nudity, the studied emptiness of Lucy’s world is rarely enlivened by anything; her emotional crescendos arrive past the point where the film has maintained its initial interest.

The most human presence is provided in a long monologue from one of Lucy’s clients, an elegant, bearded old pervert (Peter Carroll) who talks more than anyone else in the movie, despite his peripheral status.

The director, Julia Leigh, is a novelist making her debut behind the camera. Which only proves that you can be an intelligent person and talented writer and still have no idea what makes a movie come to life. This is a sleeping beauty, indeed.

“Sleeping Beauty” (1 star)

An enervated study of a listless young woman (Emily Browning) who drifts into the world of high-paid sexual services. Despite all the nudity, the movie has a sedative effect, and we’re left in the blue as to why the main character might be doing anything she does.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, violence, language.

Showing: SIFF Cinema.

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