SFF 2016 Review: Girl Asleep

Girl Asleep © 2016 GIRL ASLEEP

Girl Asleep poster Delving into territory dominated by Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze, director Rosemary Myers brings a touch of magical realism to Australian sensibilities, blending theatre and film effortlessly.

After debuting at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2015,  where it was incubated under the Hive Fund program, GIRL ASLEEP is a film that should charm the pants off everybody who encounters it. Based on the play by Matthew Whittet, who adapts his own script here, we follow the socially awkward Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore) as she reluctantly turns 15 and is forced to start leaving parts of her childhood behind. Myers marks her aesthetic choices early on with title drops emerging from people camouflaged to look like walls, and doors and posters that subtly change their wording in lieu of on-screen text. It’s no mere gimmick, as Myers and photographer Andrew Commis (The Rocket, TV’s The Slap) draw the viewer into the swirling surrealist imagery via locked-off shots and vivid colours that imply the fantastic elements – from joyful synchronised dance sequences to the more overt totemic visions – are all simply in Greta’s head. Or are they?

The casting of age-appropriate leads gives a very different vibe to sometimes erotic implications of the play: they’re still there, but filtered through the wide-eyed Whitmore as she brilliantly transitions between increasingly strange sequences. Initially giving off a Mean Girls vibe, thanks to a trio of ‘plastic’ sisters who taunt and publicly deride Greta, the breaking point comes at a party where her best friend Elliot (Upper Middle Bogan‘s Harrison Feldman) confesses he wants ‘more’ from their relationship. Here the film takes on more of a nightmarish dream quality, catalysed by her inner anxieties and strengths, represented by a fur-clad warrior woman (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), people in animal masks, a slimey living swamp of a man, and a lounge singer version of her sister’s boyfriend (Eamon Farren), who attempts to seduce her with Elliot’s voice. It demonstrates the film’s stage origins, but with the heightened nature of artificial production design, it reads better as a darker Mighty Boosh for the coming-of-age set. Yet with a distinctly Australian flavour, thanks to the unaware classlessness of Greta’s mother (Amber McMahon, reprising her role from the play) and father (Whittet), GIRL ASLEEP is ultimately an empowering film for young women, with a positive message about self-image and refuting male entitlement.

2015 | Australia | DIR: Rosemary Myers | WRITERS: Matthew Whittet | CAST: Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon | DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella Entertainment (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 77 minutes | RATING:★★★★ (8/10)