In Rosemary Myers’s Girl Asleep, Greta (Bethany Whitmore), a geeky teenager in 1970s Australia, is subjected to the indignities of mean girls at school and parents who are either oblivious or insensitive to her struggles. As Greta’s 15th birthday approaches, her family pressures her to throw the sort of party that she senses could easily turn into a show of public humiliation. As expected, she’s shamed by her school’s Regina George types and promptly retreats into a Pan’s Labyrinth-esque dream world in which scarily masked figures follow her around in the woods and origami figurines carry cryptic messages such as “Run” and “Find the girl with the tiny hands…”
Girl Asleep’s recounting of the horrors of being a teenage girl in the most stylized of ways suggests a cross between a Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson film, but the hysteria of its images isn’t matched by substance. From the overtly vibrant colors to the caricaturesque dimensions of the performances, the film’s aesthetic promises a great allegorical message that never arrives; surreal digressions—a musical number, an overlong nightmarish interlude—seem progressively gratuitous. The sequence in which Greta lingers within a bad dream is particularly anticlimactic and unnecessary considering that the film’s “reality” already feels sufficiently oneiric.
Girl Asleep is at its best when simply observing Greta and Elliott (Harrison Feldman), her equally geeky BFF, as they bathe in—or trip over—their own awkwardness. Through misunderstanding and frustration they manage to realize the importance of friendship, not just romantic love, in surviving adolescence, and in the liberating power of shared queerness. While the end of Girl Asleep is a little too similar to that of My Life in Pink, the film is careful not to take the queerness of being in a cookie-cutter world for the queerness of erotic desire. The reasons why Greta is so awkward has, refreshingly, little to do with “boys.” The ultimate lesson learned through Greta and Elliott’s kinship seems to be that love doesn’t have to be romantic, friendship doesn’t have to be flawless, gender doesn’t have to be settled, desire doesn’t need to be sexual, and that things are actually more modular than inevitable.