Here, it's Lucy (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch), a college student so strapped for cash that she holds four jobs: working at a café, doing Xerox duties in an office, participating in a medical study that requires a balloon and tube to be fed down her throat, and blowing guys at a bar.
A fifth gig arises with the potential to be much more lucrative: "silver-service waitressing," which is high-end service of a four-course meal to rich, old white men. Only here, the servers do so in their underwear or cut-out lingerie, with lipstick that exactly matches the color of their labia.
Lucy does such a good job pouring white wine while decked out in white bra, panties and garters that her female boss (Rachael Blake, AMC's recent remake of The Prisoner) promotes her to lie in bed. There's a little more to it: She'll be drugged into a couple hours' sleep, during which dirty old men can have their way with her, and she won't remember any details when she awakes. But, hey, penetration is not allowed, so these guys with gray hair and shriveled-up genitals rub their paws over her limbs, lick her face, or throw her around like a rag doll, which she essentially is in that state.
Sleeping Beauty's point? Damned if I know, but I can imagine the firestorm of controversy had the film been written and directed by a man. Instead, first-timer Julia Leigh is at the helm, and at the very least, her freshman work is interesting to watch. You haven't seen this story before, for good or ill. Too arty for its own good? Sure. Predictable? Hardly, and partly because Leigh stages scenes that raise some baffling questions she refuses to answer.
Looking appropriately cold and clinical, the film is shot in long, unbroken scenes that mirror the purposeful languid pacing and Lucy's unconsciousness on the job. Leigh's work is fine technically — most every shot appears antiseptic and art-directed to a fault — but her script is lacking, which I suspect was on purpose.
Browning does as she's told, playing Lucy as a cipher who, with a couple scenes excepted, mostly suppresses emotions. While she could use more spark to work with, the actress is the best thing about Sleeping Beauty. She turns in a remarkably brave performance. You'll never be able to watch her in Lemony Snicket the same away again. —Rod Lott
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