Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world. Since ancient times men and women alike have been selling their bodies for profit in some form. These practices are something that has generally remained a taboo part of society. We know it is there and that it goes on, yet the majority just turn a blind eye to it. "Sleeping Beauty" is not seeking to elaborate on the legality of the system, but more so to paint a portrait of one individual. The problem is that the individual 'Beauty' chooses to focus on, is so generic and drab there is zero intrigue following her character other than simple carnal desires.
The character of Lucy is a dime a dozen. A pretty girl that is willing to do anything in order to make money. Everything from medical testing to prostitution. If she can make money using her body, she will do it. Actor Emily Browning plays Lucy as able as she can, but there is nothing to hold on to. Her character is a hollow vessel. She is a portrait of too many women in this world that rely on their good looks to get them through life. Writer and director Julia Leigh adds a minor downward spiral to Lucy's character, but it doesn't stick, the character is simply too vanilla to care. She's not a character that you look at and say, "what is she doing with her life? She could be doing so much more." She's not a character that is so dark and deplorable resentment is able to fuel watching the character spin out of control either, instead she's bland and boring.
The only spark of intrigue in "Sleeping Beauty" is within the world Lucy is brought into. A secretive high-society network of unspoken desires. Lucy is approached to take part in a practice that she will have no control over. As a participant she will be rendered unconscious for a period of time, while asleep, paying individuals will be able to carry out their personal fantasies with one hitch; absolutely no penetration. The men that pay for this service require complete privacy of what goes on while the beauty sleeps. It is these men, that provide any shred of intrigue to "Sleeping Beauty." I've seen a story about the lengths a person will go to make money dozens of times, but one about what some are willing to pay in order to carry out their fantasies, that seems far more taboo and worth exploring. Eli Roth for instance dug into this idea with his film "Hostel." His path albeit much darker than Julia Leigh's film, was at least daring enough to push the boundaries of the evils that man can do. Perhaps Leigh's film is more about submission, but unfortunately that doesn't provide enough of a spark to give the film any lasting effect. The film is lackluster and outside of a few brief moments, tedious.
One thing that really worked against the erotic tale is the cold exterior it gives off. The film tries to carry a level of elegance. That elegance is on display in the set dressing, but not in the story or execution by any means. Instead it comes off cold and concealed. Some of this is intended, the world Lucy is made privy to is suppose to be anonymous, the patrons pay a premium to remain nameless and the person running the operation works very hard at maintaining that. That said, the anonymity ends up working against the tale. The audience is never given any reason to connect or care. In fact, the audience is never pushed in any direction. Both sides of this service could provide despicable actions within the plot that could have given the audience some kind of reaction, yet the film again remains cold. Neither side is allowed to become anything other than right down the middle. It is as if Julia Leigh did not want to really dig into the nature of this concept. If anything this film feels like a first pass. Something that only skimmed the surface of the topic, when instead it should have gone much deeper into either of the sides within the tale. Unfortunately "Sleeping Beauty" tries to rely on eroticism and it isn't enough, Leigh's film needed to take things a step or two further.
The last thing I feel needs touching on is the title itself. Using a title like "Sleeping Beauty" instantly resurrects thoughts and feelings about the classic Grimm fairy tale. While watching Julia Leigh's film I wondered if the erotic drama was even going to try and evoke any fantasy elements or metaphors we could possibly relate with the classic tale. The answer, barely. The slumber Lucy is put under holds a slim representation to the metaphor of sleep being death. There is some interesting food for thought about Lucy's willingness to submit to this slumber repetitively. The problem is Julia Leigh's script doesn't dig into the character's reasons for participating outside of the basic monetary gain. Then there's the topic of breaking the spell, and once again, Leigh's film only skims the surface of what it could really explore.