Cannes Review: Sleeping Beauty Comatizes

Sleeping Beauty was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times. There were many moments I thought it wouldn't end. But it did end, and perhaps that's a lesson of hope for us all: No matter how ill-suited you are to any given form of entertainment, it will likely expire before you do. Result!

Emily Browning is a poor college student holding down three jobs, yet still unable to pay rent. How poor is she? The sort of poor that makes someone "search a pay phone for change" poor. So far as I could tell her gigs included 1) test subject for medical treatments 2) coffee house employee and 3) menial office worker. She's also got a friend who is an alcoholic, and an abusive (though barely explored) mother. Her roommates want her to move out because of the whole "unable" to pay rent thing. So what's a girl to do? If you guessed "Get a job where you traipse around in lingerie, serving old wealthy folk food" then you're a very clever reader. Fourth job firmly in hand, Sleeping Beauty then progresses toward something truly disturbing, an upping of the ante on the lingerie job, and that's the notion that Lucy will allow herself to be drugged while men molest her.

Still, most films rooted firmly in objectification have some higher lesson at work. The circumstances of "why" are examined, or the protagonist is more firmly considered. Not the case with Sleeping Beauty, where nothing is explored, everything is simply de facto. Lucy isn't a bad person, or a good person, she's just a poor person. The root of her financial instability is never fully explained, and even after she receives thousands of dollars for her work she keeps the other jobs and can't pay rent. It's as if the story arc of Sleeping Beauty is a prominent flat line. This isn't a story that abhors the men who seek out illicit sex, though they are terrible, any more than it has a lesson or plot of any sort. Sleeping Beauty really isn't anything at all, it's just a collection of images thrown together for effect. It's nihilism writ large, bad things keep happening to Lucy because they do, and we the audience must simply accept without curiosity that this is the case.

Sleeping Beauty

The "sleeping beauty" scenes, once they finally arrive, are largely disturbing with a side of appalling. And again, to what end? No story is delved into, and Lucy keeps returning dutifully for her sessions, all while somehow maintaining an impressive facade of blankness. This is a film where nothing ever happens, and yet everything is continually mean-spirited. No one grows, no one learns, there aren't any laughs, and none of the characters require more than five seconds of introspection. An impressive trick, sure, but not one you're likely to recommend to a friend.

If any credit can be given for this boring (though somehow still horrific) effort it must go to Emily Browning. Make no mistake, she should never ever take a part like this again, but you have to admire her bravery in taking on a role with so little upside. The character of Lucy does drugs, has no real friends, works hard for nothing, and is topless for around half of the movie. It had to have been a thankless task, but Browning truly went for it. That it was a disaster shouldn't be held against her, any more than you'd blame the clay for producing a terrible vase. If we're looking to hold someone accountable, we'd do well to start with the person behind the wheel.

Grade: D-