The sparkling debut feature of Australian theater director Rosemary Myers and playwright Matthew Whittet plays like the love child of Jane Campion and Guy Maddin, an otherworldly quinceañera that celebrates female rites of passage and the hallucinatory power of film. Adapting their Windmill Theatre production of Girl Asleep (the Adelaide company creates challenging plays for young audiences), Myers trades bold staging for self-conscious filmmaking, drawing attention to the camera with techniques like slow zooms, and utilizing the square frame of the Academy aspect ratio.
Myers and production designer Jonathon Oxlade cloak the awkward adolescence of shy Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore) in trippy, tacky 1970s set design and costumes that would make Wes Anderson avocado green with envy. The teens that Greta encounters resemble characters from offbeat high school movies, like her suitor Elliott (Harrison Feldman), a chipper ginger Napoleon Dynamite, or the trio of domineering, spiteful Heathers whose semiprecious names are Amber, Jade, and Sapphire. While influences are often obvious (the Bruno Bettelheim fairy tale forest dreamscape), Girl Asleep does add up to more than the sum of its parts.
A naturalistic performance from Whitmore (Mental, Mary and Max) counterbalances the film’s artificiality, and Greta’s vulnerability deflates overblown characters (especially her gaudy parents). Girl Asleep is steeped in the deadpan whimsy of comedies from Down Under, but the filmmakers seriously address adolescent anxiety. Their coming-of-age tale captures the heady, frightening sensation of life slipping into another chapter without making the transition feel like it’s closing the book on further change.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 30, 2016 by Oscilloscope Laboratories
First published in The Village Voice, 2016.
Girl Asleep is available on Netflix