Girl Asleep, first-time director Rosemary Myers’ quirky, surreal, deadpan and low-budget take on female adolescence, is an absolute joy. At once a throwback to so many of the off-kilter Australian films of the ’70s and ’80s and a declaration of a promising new voice, Girl Asleep doesn’t always hold together and Myers’ reach sometimes exceeds her grasp. But that’s all part of the film’s adventurous appeal.
It’s 1970s-era Adelaide (with all the garish fashions and home decor the time period implies) and Bethany Whitmore is Greta, an awkward soon-to-be-15-year-old who’s friendless in a new school. So when a trio of the local mean girls (two of whom are identical twins) and another loner, the ultra-geeky Elliott (a terrific Harrison Feldman), who looks like string cheese with a mop of frizzy red hair, declare that they’re going to be friends with her, she reluctantly agrees.
(The opening scene where everyone meets is a smartly staged introduction to her world. Make sure to watch everything going on in the background.)
After all, she feels alone in the world. Greta’s older hippie sister is too lost in her obsession with her bad-boy boyfriend to care what’s going on with her. Meanwhile, her well-meaning parents don’t understand her shifting moods and are determined to throw her a birthday party with all of her new school “friends,” something she most definitely doesn’t want.
So Greta escapes inward into a fantasy world, and the film often veers into the realm of dreams, including a joyous party scene set to Sylvester’s ecstatic 1978 disco hit You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).
While Girl Asleep is based on a play — Matthew Whittet, who plays Greta’s dad, wrote both the play and screenplay — it never feels stagebound. In fact, it’s shot in 4:3 aspect ratio, making the screen a square, and immediately drawing viewers into this slightly skewed universe.
There are shades of Wes Anderson in Myers’ approach and it often works, though the final fantasy, in which Greta is subsumed into an alternative world, goes on too long.
But Greta emerges from her journey a stronger, better person, and Myers emerges with a sublimely entertaining calling card.
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☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Rosemary Myers
Cast: Bethany Whitmore, Harrison Feldman
Running time: 77 min.