By Sydney Rappis, Staff Writer
“Girl Asleep,” an Australian film directed by Rosemary Myers and written by Matthew Whittet — adapted from his play of the same name — is an eclectic, 1970s-set coming of age story, exploring the struggles faced by young adults as they attempt to navigate an incredibly uncertain and transitional time in their life. Focusing on the journey of a young girl, the film addresses issues of responsibility, relationships of all kinds and the societal expectations of girls.
Greta, played by Bethany Whitmore, is happy being a wallflower. She has one friend, Elliott (Harrison Feldman), who does all the talking —in fact she’s very content. Her parents, played by Whittet and Amber McMahon, are embarrassing but ultimately tolerable. The cast works together to create a realistic and wholly believable family dynamic, resulting in abounding second-hand embarrassment and heartwarming moments alike.
Whitmore in particular does a spectacular job of driving the film, embodying teenage adolescence and presenting a moving performance. The character of Greta is well written and well performed, producing a girl that one both relatable and worth befriending.
Gawky and awkward, Greta is suffering from all the traditional plights of a 14-year-old girl: she’s starting at a new school, her father regularly drops groan-worthy Dad Jokes, her mother doesn’t understand her and her older sister is too busy making out with her new boyfriend to pay attention to Greta’s issues. When her parents decide to throw Greta a surprise 15th birthday party and invite the whole school, the fragile tightrope of control Greta had been toeing is completely obliterated.
The popular girls in school embarrass her in front of her party guests, Greta’s only real friend confesses his unrequited love and an oddly masked figure steals her music box and flees into the forest behind the house. Greta leaves the party and chases the figure into the dark forest. Once Greta enters the forest, it becomes clear that she is in for some bizarre and unexpected events on her quest to recover her favorite music box.
Perhaps the best part of the film is the theme of female triumph despite adversity in a traditionally male dominated sector. By using strategically dramatic costume choices to create bright, visually appealing images the film emulates that of a fairy tale. The story of a lonely young girl traveling into the dark woods in search of a lost possession is not new. We’ve seen it as a literal forest — children facing their fears manifested as witches or monsters or trolls — but also as outer space, a haunted house or any unknown territory.
The child, in this case Greta, is asked to overcome her fears of growing up in order to achieve something great. This is a place where we all learn what we want our children to become — the boys need to be brave, the girls need to be pretty. Refreshingly, in this retelling, the girl is brave without anyone having to tell her what to do or undercut her actions. She unflinchingly demands to wear what she wants, be friends with the people she wants and be allowed to feel the things that she wants. This is a film that we would all emerge stronger from watching, it’s commentary on childhood and adolescence as relevant to anyone who is currently lost in the forest as it is to those who have trouble remembering what it’s like.