Selected for the main competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Sleeping Beauty (Revolver) is the debut feature from Australian novelist-turned-director Julia Leigh, whose books include The Hunter and Disquiet.
Lucy (Emily Browning, Baby Doll in Zack Snyder’s critically-panned Suckerpunch) is a university student who is forced to hold down a number of odd jobs in order to keep her head above water -including one as a laboratory test-subject. An evening’s work waitressing for a group of elderly men (while dressed in revealing lingerie) leads to an unlikely source of income for the disarmingly reckless Lucy, and she quickly finds herself propositioned for a different job by icy madam Clara (Rachael Blake, Suburban Shootout ). Without hesitating, Lucy agrees to drink Clara’s drugged tea and fall asleep in the mansion, unaware that during the comatose nights that follow a series of elderly men will line up to fulfil their own warped erotic fantasies alongside her prone body. However, as the job continues, Lucy develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep, and takes steps to uncover the twisted truth.
The in-demand Emily Browning -she turned down the opportunity to audition for the lead role in Twilight -delivers an astonishingly brave performance as Lucy, despite admitting that the screenplay made her ‘uncomfortable’. It is a sensation that viewers are likely to share, as Leigh’s bizarre debut film unveils a series of queasy set-pieces that position the film in a provocative, narcoleptic hinterland rarely visited by mainstream cinema. With its hazy narrative and uncompromising subject matter, Sleeping Beauty is destined to polarise audiences, but Julia Leigh has delivered a memorably strange calling card. Pretentious interludes aside, Sleeping Beauty is an adeptly-made, deliberately oblique curio.
After risking both his physical and psychological health in 2003 with the audacious Supersize Me, Morgan Spurlock turns his attentions towards product placement in Hollywood in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Universal). Intriguingly, this DVD -the end product effectively -has been entirely financed through product placement from various brands, all of which are heavily promoted throughout the film. (To give you an example, its full title is ‘POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ on account of the pomegranate beverage company that paid for top billing!) Product placement is now a multi-billion dollar industry-within-an-industry, and the subject matter is arguably an apt target for a humourist as mischievous as Spurlock.
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a neat concept, well-executed by the likeable Spurlock, but it lacks the sickly power of Supersize Me, and ultimately sounds more appealing in theory than it is in practice. Despite informative ‘talking head’ contributions from the likes of Ralph Nader and Donald Trump, Noam Chomsky and Quentin Tarantino, the bulk of the movie is taken up by Spurlock parading his slightly-smug concept before potential investors -a self-indulgent gimmick that only gets the movie so far.
It may have been less detrimental to his health, but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is also a less rewarding venture. To be fair, it’s a good documentary, just not the ‘great’ one it could have been. All in all, appealing but ultimately unsatisfying -just like a Big Mac ironically
Welcome to the Rileys (High Fliers) tells the story of Doug (James Gandolfini, The Sopranos) and Lois Riley (Melissa Leo, Frozen River), a couple who have found their lives derailed after the death of their daughter eight years ago. Borderline agoraphobic, Lois refuses to leave the house and glum Doug has been cheating on her for several years with the sympathetic waitress at his local all-night diner. While attending a business convention in New Orleans, Doug unwittingly stumbles across Mallory (Kristen Stewart, Twilight), a teenage stripper struggling to get through life after running away from her home in Florida. Strangely, the chance encounter provokes Doug’s long-buried paternal instincts, and he tries to help the nihilistic Mallory to build a good life for herself, while harbouring a vague hope of rekindling his damaged marriage with the fragile Lois.
Directed by Jake Scott (son of Ridley, nephew of Tony), Welcome to the Rileys is a self-consciously ‘poignant’ story that lacks the bite to make a real impact. Despite a background as an acclaimed music video director -he has two videos in MTV’s 100 best videos of all time -Welcome to the Rileys is a strangely un-flashy affair, that prizes grit over glitz. Gandolfini is so ingrained in the viewing public’s consciousness as Tony Soprano, that the clunky role of Doug badly underwhelms, and the whole movie feels like a sub-plot that The Sopranos rejected for being too boring. Meanwhile, Leo is largely sidelined as the unconventional relationship between Doug and Mallory takes centre-stage.
In fact, Kristen Stewart is the only participant who really emerges with her reputation boosted, and interesting (at least on paper) curveball roles like this should help to put a bit of daylight between her and the increasingly dreary Twilight Saga. Despite its impressive credentials, Welcome to the Rileys feels like less than the sum of its parts and ends up resembling a TV movie with degenerate undertones.