Girl Asleep

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Girl Asleep
"Much of the film is played for laughs but it retains an acute awareness of teenage discomfort."

Greta (Bethany Whitmore) is the new girl in town. Raised by hippy parents, she lacks the social skills for school. She's wary of the popular girls, naive in her handling of self-appointed new best friend Elliot (Harrison Feldman), and painfully shy. She's also about to turn 15 and her parents, despite all her pleas, are determined to throw her a big party.

There's a dearth of films out there that deal imaginatively with the experiences of girls this age, so Girl Asleep, despite falling short in several areas, is a welcome addition to the cinematic library. It's whimsical in the extreme and ultimately loses its way in an exploration of Greta's imaginary world, but there are a number of smart observations along the way and the performances are spot on. It also benefits from excellent set dressing and framing strongly reminiscent of that in Wes Anderson's work, which is likely to gift it some ready-made fans.

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Inspired by Bruno Bettelheim's Freudian analysis of fairytales, the film moves between conscious and unconscious landscapes in a way that sometimes implies Greta may be losing her grip, but that might as easily stem from the intensity of teenage emotions. These are explored unsparingly, so that despite the sweetness of the film as a whole, Greta doesn't come across a too nice. She has all the rough edges and casual rudeness of real teenagers, and this anchors the film in reality in spite of its dreamy meandering. Whitmore does a good job of reminding us how painful and perplexing these mood swings can be for teenagers themselves as much as those around them. Her performance ensures that Greta remains sympathetic even at her most unpleasant.

Much of the film is played for laughs but it retains an acute awareness of teenage discomfort, and some of Greta's classmates are a lot crueler than she is. For all its unevenness, Matthew Whittet 's script includes some sharply observed dialogue and does a good job of exploring the point at which childhood and adult passions interconnect, and gives Greta room to emerge from all this as a unique person. This isn't the polished product it might have been, but it's ambitious and creative and it succeeds in standing out.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2016
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The new girl at school dreads the birthday party her parents plan to hold for her.

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