In Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s kinky, frustrating debut film, Sleeping Beauty, a pale, porcelain college student named Lucy (Emily Browning) escapes from the sterility of the university science lab by taking a job as an upscale prostitute in a high-rent mansion run by a cool, elegant and precisely mannered madam (Rachael Blake) who tells her, “Your vagina will be a temple.”
The job begins with serving fancy dinners in lingerie, but escalates to something more esoteric as Lucy is driven to work by a chauffeur, drugged and sent comatose to a luxurious bed where old men are allowed to do whatever they want to her body, short of actual penetration.
It’s an eroticized take on the old fairy tale, except that it is woefully boring, the sleeping beauty on view is so casual and ambivalent you don’t care what happens to her, and there is no Prince Charming at the end of her ordeal.
We see the lurid details, but when she wakes up from her humiliations, Lucy remembers nothing. Of course it’s just a matter of time before her curiosity gets the best of her and she wants to see, too. Buying a spy camera to record her activities, Lucy at last finds out what’s been happening to her in her sleep, and manages, understandably, to go wacko.
That’s all there is, and it’s not much fun watching an Australian director whose small goal in life is to ape French provocateur Catherine Breillat. There’s not much thrill watching Browning, who is so anesthetized she seems to be dreaming whether she’s asleep or awake.
What drags the film out for 104 minutes is the ritual of Lucy, manicured, pedicured and forced to match her lipstick to the color of her labia. I suppose some vague point is intended about how women are by nature forced to be all things to all men, so they might as well get paid for it. But of course we all know things have changed radically. Today’s self-sufficient women know where their power lies, controlling men in the office, bed and bank account. Movies such as Sleeping Beauty are as sensual as cottage cheese, not to mention passé.