girl_asleep_1Year: 2016
Director(s): Rosemary Myers
Writer(s): Matthew Whittet
Region of Origin: AU

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 77 mins

Synopsis: On the cusp of turning fifteen, Greta Driscoll can’t bear to leave her childhood, it contains all the things that give her comfort in this incomprehensible new world. (Source)

Girl Asleep is a firecracker of laughs and blinding sincerity. At a time when most coming-of-age films are starting to blend together, this is the breath of fresh air we’ve been waiting for. Adapted from a stage production of the same name, director Rosemary Myers fuses magical realism with the colorful wit of Wes Anderson, turning the confusion of being a teenage girl into a rapturous adventure that’s so cute it may kill you. Imagine Alice in Wonderland spliced with Where the Wild Things Are and you may start to get an idea of what you’re in for. Still, the film doesn’t play out as a succession of influences, but rather finds its own voice amidst the invention and eccentricity. Boasting irresistible performances from stars Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman, Myers’ film isn’t afraid to get a little dark or weird, but keeps its heart firmly planted in wonder, celebrating the awkward differences that make each of us wholly unique.

Greta (Bethany Whitmore) is happy enough keeping to herself, doing her best to avoid a clique of high school divas while staying within her comfort zone. On the first day of a new semester, she meets Elliott (Harrison Feldman), who may be a kindred spirit, although she’s reluctant to totally let him in. As their friendship slowly grows, Greta’s mother secretly plans a birthday party for Greta’s 15th, inviting the entire school much to her chagrin. With the party in full swing, repressed feelings are unleashed and a torrent of embarrassment threatens to throw Greta deeper into self-imposed solitude. The secret to her salvation may lie within an old family heirloom, a music box that whisks Greta into a fantastical forest with magical amusement, but also danger and despair. If Greta makes it through the night, she won’t ever be the same.

The delight of Myers’ film lies in her ability to use its quirky charm to find honesty within a resplendent fantasy. Each frame is an overwhelming sensory experience that leaves us scrambling to devour every minute detail, if we aren’t already too busy laughing uncontrollably at the humor on display. In that way, Myers’ style is her substance, with a story that embraces its peculiarity without inhibition. Immersing us into Greta’s heightened reality, Myers throws in everything from disco dancing, to no less than 3 sets of twins, origami cranes, French crooning, colorful creatures with homespun costumes and tons more. Thankfully, none of this ever overpowers the story’s themes of self respect or owning up to our inherent awkwardness, resulting in a soulful search for identity and kinship. The film also works as a tribute to imagination, and how it can be used as an artful weapon to sort out inner demons and insecurity.

girl_asleep_2On top of Myers’ technical artistry are two performances that act as the film’s heart and soul. As Greta, Bethany Whitmore is brilliant. She owns every scene that she’s in, vibrantly turning inner conflict into outward idiosyncrasies which feel heightened, but still more genuine than showy. She gets to run the entire gamut of emotion throughout, rendering Greta with an innocence but also a ferocity that comes out right when its needed – this is without a doubt, a star-making performance, and I can’t wait to see what she does next. As the adorably honest Elliott, Harrison Feldman is socially awkward yet mentally sharp. His character thrives on contrasting ideas, and he totally relishes the role, committing fully with deadpan eccentricity and pitch-perfect comedic timing. Together, the pair are so fun, you can’t help but pine for the next moment they get to share the screen. Matthew Whittet, Amber McMahon and Imogen Archer as Greta’s parents and sister (respectively) are an asset as well, while Eamon Farren’s budding lothario, Adam, is a riot.

Girl Asleep is a welcome respite, with a visual splendor that relies on crafty ingenuity rather than overblown CGI, and romanticism rather than posturing grit. Without devaluing the teenage angst at its core, the film is light on its feet, finding truth within its colorful fiction and exploring the link between the two. Just like her titular character, Myers’ film never succumbs to its lavish imagination, but is instead anchored and made better by it.