Josh Lawson writes, directs and acts in THE LITTLE DEATH. The title, as if you didn’t know, refers to La petite mort, the term our French cousins use when they need a euphemism for orgasm. Lawson has described his film as a dark comedy and its main subject is sex. Or so it seems at first.
The intertwined storylines focus on the sexual experimentation of five middle-class couples, four of whom live in the same street. Lawson and Bojana Novakovic play the main couple. When she professes her sexual fantasy to him it sets in train a series of events, both alarming and comedic. Patrick Brammel and Kate Box play a couple trying to get pregnant. Kate Mulvany and Damon Herriman’s characters need a counselor to help improve their sex life. Things are going so badly for the older couple played by Lisa McCune and Alan Dukes, that it has affected his job performance and he faces the sack. Intrinsic to each of these pairs is that one or both has a turn-on that is impacting their relationship.
Lawson has taken these kinks and fetishes and created a number of mostly farcical comedic scenes. The dark that is supposedly part of the movie is mostly unseen outside of the character played by Kym Gyngell. The laughs are mainly of the sitcom variety. There are moments when some of the couples seem to be getting down to the nitty-gritty of what makes them tick, but this is always undercut by a gag. There’s nothing wrong with a punch line, but when it seems to be a sharp turn away from an area where the writer-director fears to tread, it can be rather frustrating. That said, there would be some in the audience glad to be on safer ground.
Lawson has woven together the story strands well. The performances from his cast are uniformly good, even at times when the script has ceased to make complete sense. The solid gold comedic section comes near the end and is atypical in that the couple is almost a threesome. Erin James plays a partially-deaf woman called Monica whose job it is to relay telephone calls from deaf users who sign their words through Skype to her, which she then speaks to a hearing user on another line. One night, Sam (TJ Power) who is deaf, Skypes in and wants Monica to put him through to a sex line. This section is handled with great comic invention and is far and away the best part of the movie. The ‘phone sex worker is played by Genevieve Hegney, an actor who is always funny in comedic parts and is seriously underrated.
THE LITTLE DEATH is about sex, but specifically it’s about how we can wreck a relationship by not understanding what we want within its boundaries. Josh Lawson is to be commended for taking on the sex-comedy, a category that few modern movies, let alone Australian ones, wish to approach. I wanted this film to be gutsier and funnier, however, the group of 20-something guys in the row in front of me laughed at every punch line. As always, funny is in the eye of the beholder.
THE LITTLE DEATH is in limited release in Australian cinemas now. It runs for 95 minutes. I rated it a 5/10