Directed by Rosemary Myers
Opens September 30
Girl Asleep poses an age-old philosophical question, disguised as a logistical one: Is this a period piece, or is it just Australian? This movie about Greta (Bethany Whitmore), a girl on the cusp of fifteen, has design elements that feel of the 70s, 80s, and of movies about the 70s and 80s. There’s at least one reference to mixtapes, but I swear someone also mentions a playlist. It has disco, but that’s come back around a few times, right?
It’s tempting to characterize the movie’s true milieu as an alternate universe based on Napoleon Dynamite aesthetics. That would certainly explain the too-corny jokes and too-short shorts favored by Greta’s father Conrad (Matthew Whittet, who also wrote the screenplay, based on his own stage play), or why her mother Genevieve (Imogen Archer) spends a long scene on an exercise bike that’s never glimpsed again. But the movie does stay on the right side of the charm/smarm divide (for that matter, so did Napoleon Dynamite, seeming so effortless as to invite all manner of terrible imitations).
As the movie opens, Greta is starting a new school, where she meets Elliott (Harrison Feldman), a kid with lopsided frizzes of red hair and seemingly boundless enthusiasm. With this, he powers through any expected teenage angst; when Greta gives him her age, he excitedly responds: “Fourteen is good, ah?” Fifteen, he assures her, will be even better. This happens during a four-minute opening shot that pushes in and out, all in a 1.33 frame that seems designed by director Rosemary Myers to evoke old TV sets moreso than the even-older movies that were shot this way as a default.
Greta’s conflicted feelings about maintaining her friendship with Elliott or accepting overtures from local popular girls Jade, Sapphire, and Amber are exacerbated when her mother insists on throwing her a fifteenth birthday party and inviting the entire school. The scene where Greta arrives at school to find everyone holding a copy of an embarrassing invitation fit for an eight-year-old’s backyard party has a nightmarish quality and from there, things keep happening that seem like dreams or hallucinations (like I said: there is disco). Eventually, the movie drifts into full-on Alice in Wonderland mode—or, to match the retro vibe, sort of a low-budget Labyrinth. This material grows a little tedious, even with the appealing left turn it represents and an admirably slim running time.
The wonderful recent film The Fits makes a seemingly odd comparison point, but it’s also a feature running under 80 minutes about the complicated inner lives of teenage girls. Girl Asleep isn’t nearly the movie The Fits is; even its most fanciful moments are more TV-scale. But maybe it’s best to take Girl Asleep at face value, in that it may be best understood as a movie actually for youngish teenagers, not about them. Which raises a question about its genre: Are so many Hollywood movies about this age group so much coarser than Girl Asleep, or are they just American?