You don’t have dig very deep into Australia’s Girl Asleep to ascertain director Rosemary Myers’ influence: From start to finish, the film bleeds Wes Anderson. It’s colorful. It’s symmetrical. The acting is strenuously affected and there’s quirk everywhere, from establishing text such as “The next week…” placed on a building where a school’s name should be, for example, or choosing the titular girl’s birthday as Feb. 31.
And if Anderson is the film’s god, Napoleon Dynamite is its spirit animal. Though Dynamite is set in the early 2000s, its aesthetic is decidedly retro, and Girl is likewise firmly entrenched in the ‘70s. One look at the porn ‘stache, big glasses, and nerdy black hair of Conrad (scripter Matthew Whittet), father of 14-year-old Greta (Bethany Whitmore), and you’re transported back to Napoleon’s milieu. Anyone who would rather smother Pedro than vote for him may wince.
Adapted from a stage play, Girl’s story starts on Greta’s first day at a new school. Though the creepy, Stepford-like popular girls offer their dubious friendship, Greta feels more at ease with Elliott (Harrison Feldman), a geeky but talkative ginger who expresses over-the-top enthusiasm for whatever Greta likes. She barely has to speak as he marvels over everything in her room, most of which she’s ambivalent about. But she is keen on showing Elliott a music box she received when she was five years old. Harry Potter-like, the masked creatures in the box’s forest setting move freely, as do the objects of any photos in the film.
But the truly fantastical part starts when Greta’s parents invite all her new classmates to her 15th birthday party. She’s horrified by all of it, from having to socialize with kids she doesn’t know to the little-girlish dress her mother (Amber McMahon) forces her to wear. Her schoolmates make paired, dance-off entrances, further escalating the film’s precious artifice.
When Greta, pouting in her room, notices that her music box is gone, she essentially enters the void. She chases into the woods the cloaked, masked creature who took it, running into other eerie, shift-changing entities and general nightmarishness along the way. It’s a rabbit hole that prevents her from finding her way home; “Greta” could very likely be a reference to the Brothers Grimm’s “Gretel.”
Though the imagery in this part of the film is sufficiently spooky—and the implied meaning of it all strained but thought-provoking—on the whole Girl Asleep is too uncannily Anderson-ian to succeed. It’s difficult to even comment on the performances, as nearly all the characters aside from Greta are actually caricatures. Ultimately, it fails to stand as its own film; Myers is such an accomplished mimic that this rarely feels like homage, but a production that should list Anderson among its credits.
Girl Asleep opens Friday at Landmark E Street Cinema.