Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Short Takes. "Beginners" and "Sleeping Beauty".

Here are two films so in love with their concepts that they manage to both completely enthrall or distance themselves from their audiences. In Sleeping Beauty, director Julia Leigh gives us a retelling of the classic story by setting it in a luxurious brothel. Emily Browning plays Lucy, a college student who deals with sex to get what she wants but fear not, this isn't one of those trashy sex movies. In fact there is almost no sex onscreen, except for the kind of erotic service she provides: every evening, Lucy is drugged by her madame (the eerie Blake) who puts her to sleep and lets men - usually older and very grotesque - do to her whatever she wants, except penetrate her. Leigh's postfeminist take on the classic children's story does make us wonder if something similar could've happened to the poor heroine in the story we all know so well. Was this sleeping chick a magnet for necrophilia-loving trolls and villains? 
What disappoints about this tale is that we only think of this, because the film is so dull, so full of itself and its pace so comatose that we wonder if we weren't drugged as well. Browning still fails to prove what's so special about her to make her the star of recent big productions and Leigh's literary knowledge fails to ignite any sort of cinematic spark. 

Mike Mills' Beginners inversely, seems to have been adapted from a Dave Eggers' novel (or any other hipster icon for that matter) and it works, despite it being an extreme case of "look at how indie I am". Ewan McGregor once again dazzles, in a totally underrated way, as Oliver, an illustrator (of course) trying to deal with his father's death.
His father is played by the astonishing Christopher Plummer who gives a performance full of such joy and wonder that one can't help but fall in love with him. He plays a man who comes out of the closet after his wife's death, his boyfriend is played by Višnjić and their scenes together might be the most memorable in the film, as they ring true in their depiction of simplicity and awe. The lush Mélanie Laurent plays Oliver's love interest and needless to say so, their story falls so deep into its own delusional drama that you only want the scenes to go back to Plummer. The film is excessively twee and might be too sweet for its own good. The problem is that it fails to acknowledge this and surprisingly this also becomes its salvation. By failing to see its flaws the movie moves and talks like the beautiful girl who smiles at everyone and hasn't realized she has a piece of lettuce stuck on her teeth.

Grades: Sleeping Beauty *           Beginners **


Rodney said...

I still can't fingure out why Emily Browning's become such a star in Hollywood these days. I mean, her roles in films like this, and the annoyingly obtuse Sucker Punch, don't exactly endear her to mainstream audiences....

Still, she's an Aussie, and I love it when Aussie's make good.

I won't be watching Sleeping Beauty, though.. it looks too pretentious.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Aaaaw, man. I guess Beginners is our Agora situation from last year rehashed all over again. Le sigh.

Paolo said...

Dammits! I agree that Plummer is excellent but I actually think that Laurent is the best part of this movie. It's not is too twee for its own good. It's very much about the contextualization of sorrow. The characters emit genuine emotions and I can't look away from that.