DIRECTED BY: Rosemary Myers
, Harrison Feldman, Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon, Imogen Archer, Eamon Farren, Maiah Stewardson
PLOT: A socially awkward girl falls asleep at her disastrous and unwanted 15th birthday party and enters a fantasy world.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Content to dawdle pleasantly through a merely quirky opening, Girl Asleep doesn’t make a mad dash for the weird until its midpoint. It’s an eccentric and worthy entry in the feminine coming-of-age subgenre, but not strange enough for the List.
COMMENTS: Girl Asleep is like what might result if you put Labyrinth, Napoleon Dynamite, and a random movie in a blender. Other critics have been quick to pick up on the last two influences, but not so much on the first one, which is crucial to us. Girl takes a radical turn at the midpoint, when Greta enters a blatantly allegorical dream world, which takes it in a direction Anderson probably would never have gone. ( might have, but he would not have kept it so sweet).
But let’s back up a bit. Girl starts off simply enough, with soon-to-be 15-year old Greta at a new school on the first day. (The fact that “new school: first day” is written on a basketball being thrown up in the air is our tip-off that this film will have a spry and offbeat sense of humor—look out for objects with informational titles spread throughout the film). Queue Elliot, the movie’s indefatigably upbeat friendly nerd, who’s the first to strike up a friendship with the newcomer. Second to approach her are Jade, Sapphire and Amber, the school’s bitchy-cool girls, who “take a shine” to her like a team of Australian Heathers. Dad wears short-shorts and Mom wears denim pantsuits—this is the Seventies, after all, as the home’s gold-and-avocado color scheme should inform you. Older sis is aloof, but her smooth boyfriend’s plunging neckline and aquamarine party van stir some instincts inside of Greta. After a string of ordinary teenage humiliations, things get really embarrassing when Mom plans a fifteenth birthday bash for the wallflower so she can meet the neighbors in the most awkward way possible. A magical realist album cover from chain-smoking heart-throb Benoit Tremet and spontaneous disco numbers keep a weirder-than-average vibe going through the first forty minutes.
Fleeing to her bedroom mid-party, an electric shock from a nostalgic music box sends Greta into a dark Gothic woods seeking to retrieve her symbolic innocence from a bird puppet and a mucousy swamp thing with a porn stache. It never gets uncomfortably weird, but there are lots of strange sights in the woods, which persist when the girl returns to her party. The easy-to-grasp analogies between Greta’s real life and her dream world, strengthened by the fact that the same actors portray characters in the fantasy, will remind experienced travelers of familiar psychic terrains (from Mirrormask and the aforementioned Labyrinth). The simplified sub-Freudian symbolism is appropriate for the target age group, just frightening enough to hint at the challenges of adulthood without tossing Greta into the terrifying orgies of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. The plot’s zigs and offbeat jokes keep us on our toes, and despite the mild absurdism the kids are as likable, flawed and realistic as any John Hughes cast. Overall, it’s a fun movie that will serve a fine escalation of the possibilities of fantastic cinema for adolescents, while the quirky setting amuses adults.
Matthew Whittet, who also plays the dad, adapted Girl Asleep from his own play. Rosemary Myers directs. Although Whittet has an established career as an actor (appearing in Moulin Rogue! and The Great Gatsby), this is his first published screenplay. Girl is the first credit of any kind for Myers. Both have promising futures, as do , the film’s two young leads. Harrison Feldman
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…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.”–Serena Donadoni, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)