My Year Without Sex -- Film Review

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Bottom Line: Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder in this sprightly tale of an Aussie family grappling with the slings and arrows of everyday fortune.

SYDNEY -- Australian writer-director Sarah Watt is not averse to throwing the odd narrative curve ball, and the nimble tonal shifts of "My Year Without Sex" are sure to keep audiences on their toes.

Starting with the attention-grabbing title -- not a frat boy's lament but the unlucky consequence of a middle-class mom's medical condition -- the buoyant dramedy takes many an unpredictable swerve, and proves Watt's breakout 2005 hit "Look Both Ways" was no fluke.

As in "Look Both Ways," the writer-director confronts life's curlier concerns -- love, sex, death and religion -- all the while keeping a tight rein on sentimentality and dusting proceedings with sprinkles of wry humor. This follow-up is sure to mirror the domestic success of her debut and put a smile on the face of the international arthouse crowd.

The talented Sacha Horler is terrific as Natalie, an earthy Melbourne mother struck down by a brain aneurysm during a routine doctor's visit. She returns to her loving family and the domestic clutter of their life under strict instructions to avoid any activity which may trigger a recurrence -- including sex with husband Ross (Matt Day).

The new vulnerability attached to her illness throws an element of crisis into the already messy world of a regular, suburban two-kids-and-a-dog family as it makes its way through a 12-month cycle of birthday parties, loose teeth, football training and family vacations.

In a nod to her animation background, Watts splices the film into segments with quirky, sex-themed titles which add even more bounce to a screenplay that cleverly avoids getting bogged down in minutiae. Watt's keen observational gift for the little things that make families tick is abetted by her characters' disarming tendency to say exactly what they think.

Mortgage pressure, fears of redundancy and an obligatory workplace flirtation join less conventional diversions such as Natalie's dalliance with religion via friendship with a female '80s rocker turned priest (Maude Davey).

Australian filmmakers have a maddening tendency to mock the denizens of suburbia, but Watt shows great affection for her characters. And it's catching.

Jonathan Segat and Portia Bradley are delightful as the couple's football-mad son and bubbly 7-year-old daughter, and Day lends an understated charm to his role as the besieged everyman doing his best under trying circumstances.

The honest, loving relationships at the core of "Sex" give it a thumping pulse, and top-notch performances across the board help make every action and reaction compellingly real.

Opens: Australia, May 28
Production company: Screen Australia, Hibiscus Films
Cast: Sacha Horler, Matt Day, Jonathan Segat, Portia Bradley, Maude Davey
Screenwriter/director: Sarah Watt
Producer: Bridget Ikin
Executive producers: John Maynard, Andrew Myer, Joanna Baevski, Andrew Barlow, Paul Wiegard
Director of photography: Graeme Wood
Production designer: Simon McCutcheon
Costume design: Kitty Stuckey
Editor: Denise Haratzis
Sales: The Works, London
No rating, 96 minutes
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