The broken crayon aesthetic of director Rosemary Myers’ “Girl Asleep” leaves plumes of primary colors in its deadpan wake. The film bubbles around Greta Driscoll (Bethany Whitmore), an emotionally withdrawn and socially adrift 14-year-old on the precipice of her 15th birthday. The furrowed brow and confused lilt of our protagonist says it all when it comes to recoiling back in the face of large parties, packs of empty-eyed bullies, and her expectant foot-tapping family. In a taciturn battle against extroversion, Greta is blinded by the incessant flak of her unrelenting peers. It’s a disorienting rush of smoke that fellow schoolmate, Elliott (Harrison Feldman), seems to be in the thick of, too.
The marketing for this particular coming-of-age tale is pretty lazy. Names like Wes Anderson and Jared Hess are being thrown out, cavalierly, to sell audiences on the sardonic, pastel-driven appearance of “Girl Asleep.” Neither of those particular directors are stylistically present in Rosemary Myers’ coming of age story. Instead, the gawky optimism of Taika Waititi and the stagy bombast of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon take center stage. Myers is wonderful with spatial awareness, there is no doubt. She uses geometry as a primary character in her film. Sometimes it works too well, though, and it’s easy to become distracted by the overtly theatrical sizing and placement of objects and people. “Girl Asleep” is somewhat too self-aware of its own modus operandi, but it’s still one of the most well-edited and interesting films of the year. There are scenes in the film that dance, quite literally, with carbonated booms of hilarity and perceptive surrealism. And in the middle of the scissor-curled ribbons and balloon static is a terrific performance by Bethany Whitmore, an actor who employs the right amount of speculative confusion and disturbed dissonance. She is basically borrowing a few of Kelly MacDonald’s tricks, and using them to her advantage.
To the unskilled eye, “Girl Asleep” may seem derivative of badly postured, awkward farces such as “Napoleon Dynamite,” but the film is so much more, emotionally, than a loose box of scattered influences. There are hypnotic dream sequences, choreographed fights, unpretentious dialog, and a true chemistry between its leads. Is the film an essential watch? Arguable. Is it interesting in its divisive techniques? Most certainly. The biggest takeaway, though: Rosemary Myers is the real deal.