Featuring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gygnell, Lachy Hulme
Screenwriter/Director: Josh Lawson
Movie website: au.eonefilms.com/films/the-little-death
Australian release date: Thu 25 Sep
Verdict: A smartly performed, written and directed comedy that reclaims ground fenced off by political correctness with humour, compassion and finesse.
This terrific feature film debut from writer/director Josh Lawson is a comedy built around sex (its title is a translation of a French colloquialism for orgasm), but to label it a “sex comedy” is to mislead. That label suggests triviality, an adult romp inviting descriptors like “naughty”. The Little Death is far more sophisticated than that and anything but trivial – which is not to say it’s short on laughs. Indeed, as a comedy it works a treat. But it’s also edgy and subversive in pushing into areas of taboo and mostly mildly deviant sexual behaviour not to shock or outrage, but because sex is fascinating in its paradoxes and diversity of expression, lends itself to comedic dramatic treatment, and is legitimate territory for artistic investigation.
The word edgy should not be interpreted as referring to graphic portrayal of sex – there’s a proliferation of that today to the point of tedium, and it rarely amounts to much more than titillation or dull literal translation of stuff that needs no translating. The Little Death delves into much more intricate and intimate aspects of sexuality, opening the lid on the private fantasies and desires of its characters, “ordinary” folk (ie: like thee and moi) whose only link is that they live in the same suburban street.
There’s foot fetishist Paul (Lawson) and his partner Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), who seeks his assurance that he will not judge her, then confesses that she wants him to rape her – without necessarily being sure that he is her violator. The problem here, apart from Paul’s understandable and funny struggle with his sexual ego, is that this is a fantasy that cannot be transformed to reality; if rape is desired, it is no longer rape. Paul’s attempt to find a way nevertheless, although motivated by love for Maeve, can only end badly, and it does. There is an overarching morality structuring the screenplay that effectively draws a line between fantasy and reality. Clever. This is a point of distinction that has been blurred by some of the sillier aspects of the political correctness that has settled like a torpor over the 21st century. A wakeup call is long overdue. So bravo.
Then there is Dan (Damon Herriman) and his wife Evie (Kate Mulvaney), who see a therapist about spicing up their sex life. The therapist’s role-playing suggestion works well initially, but Dan takes it too far.
Rowena (Kate Box) realises she gets off on the sight of her partner Richard (Patrick Brammall) in tears. This is a dilemma, since she loves him and doesn’t want him to be unhappy, but what’s a gal to do? His father’s sudden death and the dog he dotes upon provide her with opportunities to serve her unspoken desire.
Phil (Alan Dukes) is turned on by his wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) being asleep. Not such a problem with modern medication at his disposal – and unwittingly, at hers.
The stories of the couples writhe around each other and sometimes intersect, although the only real reminder that they live in the same street comes via Steve (Kim Gyngell), a mild-mannered bespectacled little man who knocks on the neighbours’ doors to introduce himself as a new arrival, offering his home-made golliwog biscuits as a diversion before announcing that he is required to inform them that he is a registered sex offender. His strategy works spectacularly well. There are some obvious and not-so-obvious sub-agendas operating here, and multiple interpretative possibilities for after-film conjecture if that’s your bag.
Another couple – the only one not to come from the same street – is introduced unexpectedly and unconventionally towards the end of the film. Monica (Erin James) is a partially deaf switchboard operator who mediates between deaf-mute Sam (TJ Power) and a rough-as-guts phone-sex worker. Monica’s embarrassed attempts to facilitate the sexually explicit exchange through a combination of signing and speaking is laugh-out-loud funny. In the process, she and Sam realise they are attracted to each other. It’s a warming vignette that ends a long way from where it begins.
Ditto the film itself, which goes out with a morally fitting bang. It’s a tonally perfect ending, and ingenuously, the loose ends of the narrative are tied up at the same time.
The Little Death is not only a must-see, but a should-see. The business of art, in all its guises, is to explore and investigate ALL areas of human experience, especially those fenced off by the tyrannical forces of political correctness. Josh Lawson has reclaimed a little of this lost ground here, and with the very able assistance of some smart performers, has done it with humour, compassion and finesse.
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