Review – The Little Death (2014)
Director: Josh Lawson
Starring: Josh Lawson, Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Kate Box, Patrick Brammall, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gyngell, Lachy Hulme
The little death, la petit mort, is a French euphemism for an orgasm. Actor Josh Lawson’s directorial debut, The Little Death, a romantic comedy about sexual fetishes, explores some of the weird and wonderful ways people get to that point.
We follow four ordinary couples living in a Sydney neighbourhood, each dealing with their own sexual issue. For Paul and Maeve, it is sexual masochism. She reveals her fantasy about being forced into sex by a stranger, leaving mild mannered Paul to try and fabricate a situation in which he can surprise his wife with an attack. For Evie and Dan, their therapist has suggested role-playing may help them get in touch with their emotions, but the scenarios get side-tracked as Dan catches the acting bug. For Phil and Maureen it is somnophilia. Their marriage is on the rocks, but when Maureen accidentally takes one of Phil’s extra strong sleeping pills, he sees his wife still and silent and falls in love with her all over again, starting an evening affair. For Rowena and Richard it is dacryphilia. Their efforts to get pregnant has taken the passion out of sex, but when Richard receives some bad news, Rowena finds herself strangely aroused by his tears so must continually find ways to make him cry. These stories are all tied together by a man, new to the neighbourhood, who goes door to door, using homemade nostalgic biscuits to distract his new neighbours from his legally required pronouncement that he is a registered sex offender.
The Little Death is not your typical sex comedy. It manages to be frank and explicit without being gratuitous or childish. These are suburban middle-class folk in committed relationships, not randy frat boys, and while the film does get some big laughs out of its exploration of different fetishes, it also explores themes of morals, normality, and communication within a relationship. We see characters who are so ashamed of their fetish that they create elaborate lies and even admit to far worse accusations in order to hide the truth.
Lawson’s screenplay does walk a very fine line. There are some divisive elements which will leave some audiences conflicted. The most obvious of these is the inclusion of a woman’s rape fantasy. While Lawson treads carefully in this area, it is a controversial and confronting concept, and at the very least it would seem a misstep that this is the first couple, and thus first fetish, that is introduced.
As is common in these types of films, some of the storylines work better than others. Despite some beautiful and very funny moments, The Little Death does struggle a bit for rhythm in tying those scenes together. Lawson possibly tries a bit too hard to connect the different storylines together into a neat Love Actually package, with the attempts to intertwine the stories becoming messy when the thematic connection on its own is sufficient.
With so much effort having gone into weaving these four storylines together, it is then a surprise to find one scene, concerning a fifth pairing, which stands alone at the end of the film. Monica works as a translator at a service that makes phone calls for deaf people. Sam, a deaf-mute, Skypes in and requests that Monica call a phone sex line for him. While usually a scene that struggles to find its place would be destined for the cutting room floor, this scene ends up being hands down the best of the film. Riotously funny, the scene strangely becomes a genuinely touching and lovely moment of connection between two people. It is my favourite singular movie moment of the year.
While some audiences will struggle to get on board with the concept, and the film has peaks and troughs, when The Little Death is good it is very good, and there is more than enough in The Little Death to suggest that Josh Lawson could be an interesting comedic voice in the future.
Review by Duncan McLean
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