Hot off of ‘Sucker Punch’, Australian actressEmily Browning could have gone a number of different directions. After first appearing in ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events’ some time ago, more adult roles have indeed come knocking. That brings us to ‘Sleeping Beauty.’

Lucy (Browning) is a university student who earns money a number of ways. Her more conventional jobs are working in a coffee shop and an office while her shadier ones are as a test subject in a lab and dabbling in prostitution. Sometimes, she visits a lonely junkie named Birdmann (Ewen Leslie) to keep him company.

One day, Lucy applies to an advertised job and meets with a posh older woman named Clara (Rachel Blake). The job is a high-class lingerie model/server at parties for rich people. Lucy (renamed Sarah for the job) is a hit and is called back with another opportunity from Clara. The proposal is that Sarah drinks a tea that puts her into a deep sleep for a few hours while a paying guest spends the night with her. The arrangement prohibits sexual contact.

This is an incredibly high-paying gig for Sarah and she is quickly able to find ideal living conditions and nearly any material possession that she could ever desire. After awhile, Sarah begins to get curious about what actually happens when she is asleep.

Is this truly worth it? Is this really as dangerous as it sounds?

Yes, this is a very adult role and out of left field for Miss. Browning. For all of the nudity and potential for tawdry antics, this isn’t actually an especially sexual movie. Sarah’s ‘clients’ are all old, rich, lonely, sad men who are seeking the company of a nubile young woman for one reason or another.

The film has some tricks, but it also takes a ‘less is more’ approach in many ways. There are sequences where you are just supposed to soak everything in and there is little dialog for stretches. Lucy/Sarah herself is often reduced to silently being at the center of some odd scenarios. She agrees to some bizarre situations and sometimes seeks out trouble, but too much of the action comes to her in an attempt to capture her reaction (or lack therof).

What is most disheartening about the film is that there were a lot of possibilities given the premise, but the story doesn’t go far enough. Shortchanging the Lucy/Birdmann relationship by not really giving him any context robs us of Lucy/Sarah’s sole source of healthy social interaction. She doesn’t feel like a fully realized and fleshed-out character.

Everything isn’t exploitative as it tries to make a statement of feminism and empowerment. It’s a very unconventional and roundabout way to make the point, but if you look for it, you can probably glean something like that from it. A more dynamic plot with a greater sense of urgency could have added to this.

Special features include: nothing.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a result of famed Australian filmmaker Jane Campion’s production, but it feels like a first time director was at the helm. Actually, one was, Julia Leigh. She can stage a scene and establish some nice mood, but even given the fertile material, the story is stagnant.

Not rated 102 minutes 2012

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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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