Girl Asleep (2016, dir. Rosemary Myers)
14-year-old Greta Driscoll has just moved to a new town and like many adolescents is having trouble fitting in. She makes friends with the kind, but awkward Elliott and quick enemies with Jade and her mean girl crew. Things get worse when her mother decides to invite everyone at her school to Greta’s 15th birthday party. Greta is crushed after being humiliated by Jade during the party and ends up slipping away into a magical world just beyond the woods of her home.
From the first moments, there is a strong Wes Anderson vibe to the aesthetics of the picture. But I knew there was something slightly different I couldn’t put my finger on. After a few more scenes it was apparent, this film has much more overt warmth than your typical Anderson fare. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wes Anderson, but I have rarely had a strong emotional reaction to any of his films. Girl Asleep has all the quirky characters and the style, but with a sense of life and energy, Anderson’s films intentionally refrain from. It is not a perfect movie, though, and while characters are warm and full of life, they are still painted in broad strokes.
Another piece of inspiration appears to the British television series The Mighty Boosh. The magical land of the woods and its inhabitants are presented in the style of a young child’s imagination. One central figure is clad in a banana yellow rain slicker with pink and blue crayon tones across their masked face. There’s a high similarity to the costumes seen in Moonrise Kingdom but with zanier, more fantastic visual accents.
The performances in Girl Asleep are excellent and capture the specific traits each character needs to present. Greta (Bethany Whitmore) is vulnerable and fierce, able to balance the many facets of her character going through a period of tremendous growth and change. Elliot (Harrison Feldman) is one of those actors who makes performance look easy. He is effortless and funny, awkward and genuinely charming. Greta’s parents, played by originators of the story on stage, Matthew Whittet, and Amber McMahon, are entirely exaggerated parents without being unsympathetic.
Girl Asleep won’t be my favorite film of the year, but it does take a very well-worn genre, coming of age, and adds some freshness to it. The magical aspects of the story make it something different. The performances, particularly Bethany Whitmore, are very charming and endearing. I could see this being an excellent film to introduce a neophyte film geek to art cinema and non-American films.