Julia Leigh’s directorial debut came to cinemas this week, starring Emily Browning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch) as Lucy, a high-end prostitute suffering from moral and financial issues. The plot revolves largely around Lucy’s experiences as she is pulled further into her career as a prostitute. This film offers an awards-friendly experience that is perhaps too composed, in which the performances are strong, the style is nuanced, but the overall effect is muted.
This film does bear a certain independent aesthetic; it was shot beautifully with a keen focus on a composed or crafted mise en scene. Stylistically, this film bore a resemblance to David Michod’s Animal Kingdom, Australia has never felt so dark than in this breed of film. However, that is where the comparisons end, whereas Animal Kingdom revolved around a superb and ambitious plot, Sleeping Beauty suffers from narrative stagnancy. The film introduces that Lucy is a prostitute early on and the film departs with her still as a prostitute, as such I felt rather nonplussed by the whole experience and that ultimately the film did not commit to its feelings on the sordid business.
I went into this film expecting a dissection of prostitution and wealth, I felt it missed an opportunity to create a rather clever allegory between high-end prostitutes and the rich businessmen they entertain, after all both surrender their moral integrity for financial gains. However, this film was infuriatingly inaccessible, the character of Lucy lacked continuity I felt, at times she was cut off from the world and tough skinned and at others she was nakedly vulnerable and harrowingly isolated. This juxtaposition meant that every time your emotional ties with the character were formed, they were just as quickly cut off.
However, I am not sure who is a fault here; Emily Browning certainly gives a striking performance as a jaded twenty-something who decides to experiment with her overt beauty. On the other hand, it would seem Browning is determined to distance herself from her child actor persona and adopt a more adult take on acting, which hereby translates as getting nude on camera a lot. As it is Julia Leigh’s first time in the director’s chair, she could perhaps be forgiven for being a tad cumbersome in her first picture; that said Leigh does a fine job of bringing the eccentric characters to life.
Overall, this film will not win awards, but that is not for a lack of trying, it is cashing in on the pre-Oscar Season interests of audiences. Perhaps Browning and the cinematographer will get a nod or two at the awards, but nothing more. Above all this film is style over substance, just because you add a sleek style, an edgy plot, a pinch of nudity, does not mean you are going to win awards or entertain audiences for that matter.