During recess, Greta (Bethany Whitmore) sits alone on a bench awkwardly gazing about her new school. Elliot (Harrison Feldman) approaches her after fending off some bullies, and strikes a conversation. It is wonky but sweet, and they decide then and there that they want to be friends. Suddenly, the three most popular girls approach Greta and tell her she should come with them. Greta does so out of sheer terror, but little did she know that in the next two days her world would be turn even more upside down when her mother sends everyone in the school an invitation for Greta’s 15th birthday.
Girl Asleep is the debut film of director Rosemary Myers and it is fantastic. From the very opening shot, the film latches onto you and evidently, most people will immediately think of Wes Anderson. Girl Asleep does have the visual quality of a Wes Anderson film, but I think it speaks to brilliance of Girl Asleep that it never feels like a knock-off or homage. In fact with this film I dare say that Rosemary Myers is simply working in the genre of Wes Anderson, because for all its “callbacks” Girl Asleep nevertheless feels original and fresh.
The story itself is straight-forward, at the beginning, dealing with the new girl at school adjusting to a new environment. Fortunately, this simplicity allows for greater emphasis to be placed on the film’s other elements. The characters in this film follow the established teen film players, like the popular girl, the nerd, the awkward new girl, the hot older boy, so on and so forth. But every perceived stereotype is given a twist by both the direction and the performances themselves. This twist renders the characters into something different. They all have a new quirk that makes you realize there is something more and it’s those small details that help maintain engagement.
Praises must be given to the script for instilling a degree of freshness into the characters, but most of the credit must go to the cast. Bethany Whitmore is excellent as Greta and she effortlessly carries the film from its uncomfortably funny beginnings to its increasingly surreal ending. For someone so young, she demonstrates palpable charisma and a face that is so expressive it hurts. She can convey so much with a simple glance and does a brilliant job in representing the film’s underlying conflict. Greta is a girl who is afraid of change, she is afraid of leaving her bubble and she finds refuge in her imagination. But you can’t stop time from flowing, no matter how hard you wish for it, and seeing Greta’s journey of personal growth is handled with vulnerability, sincerity and an almost perfect comedic timing by Bethany Whitmore.
The other standout of the film is Harrison Feldman who plays donut-loving Elliot. As the character with the most dialogue, Feldman is tasked with a huge burden and his flawless execution is amazing. It’s so refreshing to see a young actor actually play someone his own age. Not like CW shows where teens look anything but. Harrison Feldman is marvellous delivering the film’s most comedic lines, and beyond that his character represents someone that is a perfect counterpart to the protagonist. Elliot maybe awkward and nerdy, but he wears those qualities proudly like an shinning ginger armour. There is a palpable confidence in what he does and what he says that always carries a degree of innocence, not naivety. His performance is genuine, sweet, and he will make you want to eat donuts.
Girl Asleep is a really fun and entertaining film. It deals with a subject matter that many of us have seen before, but it does so under a new lens. Director Rosemary Myers has instilled in the film a level of freshness that is infectious. Girl Asleep is visually awe-inspiring with its symmetrical framework and the vibrant costume design. The development of the story is what surprised me the most, because while things start familiar they gradually delve into the surreal. The final 20 minutes unleash a dream-landscape full of quirky terror that is bizarre but relatable. It’s a bold approach and it contextualizes the overarching conflict of Greta, while also shining new light on the other established characters. Girl Asleep is a nod to Wes Anderson that nevertheless feels original. With its brilliant performances, beauitfully sweet central friendship and wonderful dancing number in the middle, Girl Asleep is a must-see film.