Greta Driscoll is 14-years-old. Her family have recently moved into their new Adelaide home. Her mother, father and older sister appear to be settling in well, but life feels harder for Greta (Bethany Whitmore). She hasn’t made any friends at her new school, apart from weird, nerdy Elliott (Harrison Feldman) and she is doing everything she can to avoid the attentions of mean girl sisters, the triplets, Jade, Sapphire and Amber. Unfortunately, her mother Janet (Amber McMahon) thinks the occasion of Greta’s 15th birthday should be a kind of “coming-out” for her reclusive daughter. Greta cannot imagine anything worse than the humiliation of the upcoming party where kids she does not know, will suddenly invade the sanctuary of her family home.
GIRL ASLEEP is a new Australian arthouse comedy. It is written by Matthew Whittet (who also plays Greta’s father Conrad) and is adapted from his successful Windmill Theatre play of the same name. A good proportion of the adult cast played these characters in the original 2014 production. Rosemary Myers, the film’s director, also directed the play and is the Windmill’s Artistic Director. Adaptations of Australian plays into feature films are surprisingly rare (although Simon Stone’s THE DAUGHTER is a recent example), so it is a pleasure to see these theatre folk giving it a crack with some lively, contemporary material.
The story is set in a mythic mid-1970s land of board shorts, denim, panel vans, vinyl LPs, Farrah Fawcett’s feathered flip, the Australian cricket team’s mo’ and the spontaneous dancing of the Bus Stop and the Hustle. The pop cultural gags and much of the production design is aimed at this comfort zone of retro Aussie suburbia. The influences are Kath & Kim and MURIEL’s WEDDING (1994), but less obviously I was eventually reminded of Joe Wright’s HANNA (2011), when the tale veered unexpectedly into Scandinavian magic realism and was topped off with some hipster, music-video stylings. Myers is bold in her borrowings, so what begins as familiar becomes rather less so. This is all in service to a dream-like portion of the film (which is called GIRL ASLEEP, after all) and these would usually have me reaching for a thesaurus to find synonyms for “abysmal”, yet Myers brilliantly walks a tricky line. Fans of transactional analysis will have some fun here.
The performances are all on point. Whittet and McMahon are excellent as Greta’s parents. Harrison Feldman charms with a variant of his Oscar character from television’s Upper Middle Bogan. Bethany Whitmore is especially winning as Greta.
GIRL ASLEEP is an arty Australian coming-of-age flick with a disco beat. It runs for a sweet and quirky 77 minutes. And it is currently in limited release in Terra Australis. (8/10)