Girl Asleep, by director Rosemary Myers, has been touted as an Australian version of Napoleon Dynamite. It's an obvious comparison, but while there are many similarities, Girl Asleep will leave you feeling something much deeper than mild amusement and confusion (sorry Napoleon, but it's true).
For a start, it's a coming of age film starring actual teenagers, and that awkwardness translates beautifully to the screen. Greta (Bethany Whitmore) is 14, very shy and starting life at a new school. On her first day there she meets the geeky Elliot (Harrison Feldman) and they develop an unlikely friendship. Her life and all its inherent confusion stays private until her parents (played so very well by Amber McMahon and screenwriter Matthew Whittet) throw her a massive 15th birthday party and all her internal chaos spills over.
The narrative is well-paced and comfortingly predictable, until the third act when Greta is plunged into a surreal, sexy world of Abject Men, Frozen Women, vaguely sinister forest creatures and lessons about sisterhood. It's a brusque transition but not unexpected, since the whole film has a touch of the surreal about it. There's an air of awkwardness that at times that goes beyond the script, although thankfully the two young leads are supported by a fluid and confident supporting cast, who lend the whole production a professional veneer that keeps your faith intact.
Myers originally developed and executed the story as a stage play, and you can see fragments of the stage in the two-dimensional composition and the all-singing, all-dancing dramatics that give the film its signature look. And what a look! Girl Asleep is worth the ticket price alone just for the attention to detail in the props, costumes and sets. It's all so glamorous, so coordinated, so excessive and so 70s – a visual smorgasbord of big hair, tight shorts, flares and loud patterned wallpaper.
And yet, behind the glamour and theatrics, viewers will find a remarkably relatable protagonist. Greta deals with her questions of identity, gender, sexuality and feminism in a way that will catch you by surprise, right in the feels. The writing hits a subtle emotional frequency that offsets and works well with the zany visual antics, helping to set Girl Asleep apart from the pack.