'The Little Death': Sydney Review

This ensemble film manages to be both borderline offensive and improbably sweet.  

Actor Josh Lawson makes his debut as writer-director with an edgy sex-fetish comedy starring Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman and Kate Mulvany.

SYDNEY - There’s some weird stuff going on behind the doors of a tidy suburban street in the Australian sex-fetish comedy The Little Death, some of it very funny, some scandalous and quite a bit of it funny because it’s scandalous. Like a deviant Antipodean version of Love, Actually, actor Josh Lawson’s Sydney-set writing and directing debut interweaves the stories of five different couples. It’s slick and smartly acted by a host of locally familiar faces, and Lawson, who also stars, nimbly dodges the screenplay’s serrated edges to create an ultimately tender-hearted whole.

Following its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, the first feature from newly created production company Ticket to Ride opens domestically later in the year and could find niche release overseas, where some of the taboo-busting material, particularly the storyline about a young woman’s rape fantasy, will likely polarize audiences.

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The film’s title is the English translation of la petite mort, the French euphemism for orgasm, and its characters find some eccentric ways to get there. Opening on a relatively run-of-the-mill foot fetish scene between Paul (Lawson) and his long-term girlfriend Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), the film flags early that it’s going to take the humor right up to the line when she, in turn, reveals her secret turn-on is to be raped. An ensuing scene in which Paul awkwardly tries to sound out a friend on the logistics of enacting this fantasy had the festival audience laughing out loud and shaking their heads in equal measure.

Other outwardly ordinary characters conceal strange desires in this cleverly constructed anthology. Dan (Damon Herriman) gets carried away with the role-playing a therapist suggests he try with his wife Evie (Kate Mulvany). Rowena (Kate Box) introduces us to the term dacryphillia: only the sight of her partner Richard (Patrick Brammall) in tears can kindle a spark. And milquetoast Phil (Alan Dukes) is aroused by the sight of his sharp-tongued wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) when she’s asleep. Intermittently popping up to introduce himself to his new neighbors is Steve (Kim Gyngell), a politely smiling gent who arrives bearing homemade biscuits and the news that he is a registered sex offender.

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Lawson shows skill in plaiting the plotlines together, with each couple’s experiences running in tandem and occasionally overlapping. Coming out of the blue, however, toward the end of the film’s fairly brisk running time, is the most affecting vignette of all. Newcomer Erin James plays Monica, a partially deaf switchboard operator at a video relay service who acts as a go-between connecting deaf-mute Sam (TJ Power) to a phone sex line. The two actors have fairytale chemistry, making this particular segment both hilarious and swooningly romantic.
It’s quite a trick Lawson has pulled off, creating a film that’s as genuinely sweet as it is borderline offensive, and funny throughout. The US-based Australian star of TV’s House of Lies and the films The Campaign and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues shows both his funny bone and his heart are in the right place. Lensing by Simon Chapman (The Loved Ones, Griff the Invisible) is clean and crisp and overall production values belie the modest budget.

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Venue: Sydney Film Festival
Production company: Ticket to Ride
Cast: Lisa McCune, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kim Gyngell, Kate
Box, TJ Power, Josh Lawson, Lachy Hulme, Erin James
Writer-director: Josh Lawson
Producers: Jamie Hilton, Michael Petroni, Matt Reeder
Executive producers: Phil Hunt, Compton Ross, Josh Pomeranz, Viv Scanu, Stephen Boyle
Director of photography: Simon Chapman
Production designer: Xanthe Highfield
Costume designer: Ingrid Weir
Music: Michael Yezerski
Editor: Christian Gazal
No rating, 97 minutes