So I recently watched Sleeping Beauty.
No, no, not that one. The2011 Sleeping Beauty starring Emily Browning as the titular beauty who also sleeps. That is, of course, the only thing the two films have in common. Disney’s version is even entertaining, something the 2011 film certainly can’t claim.
Browning, probably most well-known here in the States for her role in Sucker Punch, stars as Lucy, a woman struggling to make ends meet and doing nearly anything just to make a buck. She holds down two part-time jobs, participates in medical studies, and even turns a trick here and there, but still seems squarely in the red. Her only friend, an odd duck named Birdman, alternatively wants to date her and commit suicide, and the two ritualistically propose marriage to one another and drink in his apartment. It is a bleak, lean life almost entirely devoid of emotion or enthusiasm. I almost wondered if I was watching some spin-off of George Orwell’s 1984.
Things get interesting – well. Things get less boring…no. Something actually happens when Lucy takes an unusual ad in the paper and goes in for an interview with a matronly, upper-class woman named Clara who strips her down, examines her, and tells her that she’ll be essentially serving people dinner in the nude, but that she won’t be penetrated. A normal person might be put off by all of this, but Lucy seems so resigned to her desperation that she barely bats an eye. Because even batting an eye requires acting!
And after several more long, boring minutes, Lucy does join a group of similarly clothing-challenged women and serves a group of elderly, wealthy people dinner. This is not treated as risque or even out-of-the-ordinary. Everyone involved seems to proceed as though having naked women serve veal cutlets is as common as brushing one’s teeth. Everything is so restrained and without contrast that it’s difficult to determine how even Lucy feels about all this.
Eventually, after more workaday non-adventures, Lucy is called in and given a shot at the BIG TIME. And by “BIG TIME,” I mean Clara drugs her after an overlong tea ceremony and puts her nude body in a bed. Then Clara and one of her rich, elderly clients have a prolonged conversation while sitting on the end of said bed. Long, long, long story short, the man is depressed and tired of life. In the future, he may call upon Clara to have his “bones broken,” a cutesy intellectual way of saying he’ll want her to help him commit suicide.
Clara leaves soon thereafter, and the bearded man slips out of his clothes and into bed with the unconscious Lucy. He fiddles with her body briefly, no doubt marveling at her youth and porcelain beauty, and then he cuddles up with her and goes to sleep.
And this continues. Lucy goes to work and school, keeps turning tricks, and keeps sleeping with weird old men. Some of them are sadistic yet impotent. Some of them are just hilariously impotent, as one stocky gentleman keeps trying to lift and move the probably 80-pound Lucy, but the drugged girl keeps falling off the bed despite his “best” efforts.
Things do start to go off the rails for the bare phantom of a life Lucy had led. She lies down with her friend Birdman for the last time as he has taken a great many pills in his final, successful suicide attempt. Lucy finally sobs openly, showing human emotion for the first time in the film. She’s subsequently kicked out of her flat and rents a luxury penthouse that she can’t even afford to put a proper bed in. Her drug and sex-riddled extracurriculars finally get the best of her and she’s fired from one of the jobs she barely paid any attention to anyway.
But despite her poor financial shape and increased dependence on her unusual job, Lucy becomes increasingly suspicious of what goes on while she’s out like a light, and buys a tiny spy camera. Then, still hungover on booze and drugs from a especially wild bender, Lucy unwisely takes another assignation from Clara. She implores the matron to let her see what happens in the room, but Clara refuses. Both women know that something is not right with the picture, and yet they proceed regardless.
A drugged Lucy staggers her way across the room to plant her spy camera and stumbles back into bed just in time. It seems the bearded man is ready to have his “bones broken,” and Clara obligingly doses him with several times the amount of drugs she typically gives Lucy. He thanks her, strips naked, and crawls into bed with the unsuspecting Lucy.
Of course, the next morning, HIJINKS ENSUE! Benny Hill would double over laughing at the wacky antics of Lucy, Clara, and Dead Bearded Guy! Weekend at Bernie’s got nothing on the comedic tour de force that is Sleeping Beauty!
No, Clara comes in to find her bearded client dead as expected, but has to perform mouth-to-mouth on Lucy before our “heroine” wakes up, realizes she’s in bed with a corpse, and screams her fucking lungs out. Then we cut to the spy camera footage of the two of them…just sleeping.
The critical response to the film is curiously split. It currently holds onto a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the somewhat-unusual “No Consensus Yet” message displayed underneath. It seems to be a classic example that perception is everything. But I seriously question the authenticity of enthusiasm for a movie that displays none. As a some sort of quasi-intellectual exercise, I’m sure Sleeping Beauty has merit, just like Tree of Life had merit…which is to say: not much. Just like rich people buy things to demonstrate that they are rich, there are smart people who watch things like this to demonstrate that they are smart. “It’s all a metaphor, see? It has layers. It’s subtle. Watch how her eyebrow twitches in this one scene. That eyebrow twitch betrays a tidal wave of inner feeling. You just don’t understand because you’ve been indoctrinated by Hollywood’s insistence on plot and character and entertainment.”
Yes, yes I have.
I watch movies to be entertained. It’s tragic, I know. If I happen to be intellectually stimulated along the way, so be it.But the foremost job of entertainment is to be entertaining. Sleeping Beauty’s ponderous pace and lofty “understand me if you can” approach is the antithesis of entertainment and it becomes the very rich, white, old men it portrays as weak, impotent, and broken. Whatever message it hopes to convey is lost in its meandering, self-important quest to reject anything recognizable as filmmaking. That, and it sucks.