The Little Death


Pillow talk.

Pillow talk.

(2015) Romantic Comedy (Magnolia) Bojana Novakovic, Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman, Patrick Brammall, Ben Lawson, Tasmeen Roc, Erin James, Stephanie May, Lachy Hulme, T.J. Power, Lisa McCune, Kate Box, Kate Mulvany, Hiroshi Kasuga, Zoe Carides, Matt James, Darren Gallagher, Paul Gleeson, Kim Gyngell, Stephen James King, Alan Dukes, Genevieve Hegney. Directed by Josh Lawson

Florida Film Festival 2015

Romantic relationships are tricky, complicated things. There is so much going on, so many layers in play that it’s remarkable that any can survive. Intimacy is by nature an element of a romantic relationship, and there are so many different types of intimacy that mastering all of them is a feat that requires commitment and hard work.

This pleasant Aussie film features five couples in suburban Sydney dealing with a variety of relationship problems and sexual fetishes. Paul (J. Lawson) and Maeve (Novakovic) live together and seem happy enough, although there are those who frown in disapproval that the two seem to have no plans whatsoever to get married. One night, Maeve tells Paul that she would like him to rape her. Not as in, take her unwillingly but to make her think she’s getting raped – not tell her in advance when he was going to do it, wear a mask so that there could be some element of doubt .

Paul is somewhat taken aback but he truly loves Maeve and wants to make her happy. He makes a pretty decent attempt to rape her but she falls out of the mood when she smells his cologne. Eventually, he makes an elaborate attempt which goes quite wrong – although in the end she gets that he would do anything to make her happy, even that which goes outside his comfort zone. That one’s a keeper in case you were wondering, Maeve.

Dan (Herriman) and Evie (Mulvany) are having intimacy problems and are seeing a relationship counselor. He advises them to do a little role playing; get out of themselves and become other people. At first, it’s kind of a giggle but the two end up consummating and in a big way. Dan is inspired to do further role playing, even taking up acting classes. Soon, to Evie’s dismay, the role becomes more important to Dan than the play.

Rowena (Box) is trying to get pregnant and her husband Richard (Brammall) is giving it his all but after three years they’re still trying. The failure is beginning to get under Rowena’s skin and she sees a doctor about it, who advises her that orgasms can actually help with fertility. Shortly after that, Richard’s father has a heart attack and dies unexpectedly and her manly husband breaks down in tears for the first time in front of his wife. Rowena is quite moved by this – and quite aroused, to her surprise and delight. She finds that she can orgasm only with the use of tears but getting her husband to cry can be quite the challenge.

Phil (Dukes) is having problems sleeping. He wants some tenderness from his wife Maureen (McCune) but while she is a beautiful woman, she’s also a shrew and tends to belittle him every chance she gets. As for intimacy? Forget it! She’d rather get some sleep, so Phil doesn’t. He falls asleep at work and his boss (Hulme) warns him that if this continues, he will have no choice but to fire him. He gives his employee some not-strictly-legal sleeping aids. Phil often gets aroused at the sight of his sleeping wife; when she accidentally drinks a cup of tea in which he’d put the sleeping powder, he finds that he can make of her the perfect wife; cuddly, loving and affectionate. He is happy for the first time in a long time.

Finally, Monica (James) works as the interpreter at a video center which allows her to sign for deaf people who can’t hear the people on the other end of the phone. Ironically, she wears a hearing aid which has a nasty habit of going on the fritz at inopportune moments. In any case, one night she gets the assignment to translate a phone sex call for Sam (Power), a lonely insomniac graphic artist. Although Monica is uncomfortable with the graphic talk, she and Sam strike up a conversation afterwards and find that they have a good deal in common.

A thread running through the movie is Steve (Gyngell), a new neighbor in the same Sydney suburb who introduces himself with baked goods that are racially insensitive and are generally frowned upon in Australia these days although it does set off a sense of nostalgia in most of those who receive them. Steve then tells them that he is required by federal law to inform his neighbors that he is a convicted sex offender. The running joke is that nobody is paying attention to him when he says this, being either wrapped up in their own problems or in the hazy glow of nostalgia that comes from the golliwogs.

While sexual fetishism is used as kind of a linking device to each vignette, the truth is that this isn’t about sex so much as it is about relationships. Josh Lawson, a veteran Aussie actor, not only directed the movie – his first go-round in the director’s chair by the way – he also wrote it as well. One gets the sense that Lawson has a liking for irony because there’s a lot of it here; the couple that communicates the best is the deaf one, for example, while the most “normal” of the couples is the one trying to enact a rape role play.

Most of the couples have some sort of issue in their relationship, be it the aforementioned communication with each other (or lack thereof), or truthfulness within the relationship (or lack thereof). We watch at least one of the couples drift apart; we see another one, in which one member takes the other for granted, end up in a situation in which that won’t be an issue anymore.

The movie is funny in a breezy sort of way and while there is some uncomfortable sexuality, it isn’t necessarily raunchy in the way American sex comedies can be. Even though some might look upon this as a celebration of deviant behavior (and some critics have), what it really is at least to me is an expression of what it takes to make relationships work and how difficult that can be. The sex only appears to be the be-all and end-all to the movie; it is at the end of the day the relationship that is important, more so than the sex which is merely a component. Just as in life.

REASONS TO GO: Believable relationships. Some genuinely funny vignettes. Insightful.
REASONS TO STAY: Might make the prudish uncomfortable.
FAMILY VALUES: A good deal of sexual content and graphic language, some partial nudity and a few disturbing scenes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title comes from a 19th century French euphemism for orgasm, le petite morte.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 59% positive reviews. Metacritic: 46/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: What to Expect When You’re Expecting
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: Pixels

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Blind Date (2007)


Blind Date

An uneasy romance.

(Variance Films) Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thijs Romer, Gerdy De Decker, Georgina Verbaan, Robin Holzhauer, Sarah Hyland, Peer Mascini. Directed by Stanley Tucci

A relationship is a fragile thing. It requires nurturing and growth in order to survive. Sometimes, events happen which put this fragile existence in jeopardy. In those instances, a couple has to be willing to go to extreme lengths to make things work.

Don (Tucci) owns a rundown bar (although it’s never specifically said, we assume it’s in Amsterdam) and periodically takes to the small stage to perform a desultory Vaudeville-like magic act, usually to be met with disinterest. People go to this bar to drink and maybe hook up; entertainment is not really on the minds of any of the barflies who frequent it.

He is married to Janna (Clarkson), someone he has spent much of his adult life with. The marriage is a lifeless one, it seems; they are trying to spice it up with a series of blind dates arranged through personal ads. In each date the two take on different personas, trying to find two that mesh well. However, reality intrudes on each date as their problems peek through the façade, causing each date to end badly, inevitably.

It’s a simple premise, and only two gifted actors could make this work. Tucci wrote and directed this movie based on a 1996 movie by the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh, who would be murdered by Muslim extremists in 2004 for making a film critical of Islam. Tucci has chosen to take that movie and strip it down to a bare frame, shooting on two sets over the course of seven days, utilizing many of van Gogh’s regular crew to do it.

The results are mixed. The movie at times has a stagey feel, like you’re watching the filmed version of a stage play. I get the distinct impression that Tucci as a director was deliberately going for that feel, and to be honest, I think that it makes some of the movie ring false. The powerful dialogue and plot might have been better served in a more natural setting, but that’s just me.

What makes this movie worth seeing are the performances of Tucci and Clarkson. Their characters have both been wounded deeply and are struggling to find a way to co-exist and both of them are very well aware that they may be clutching at phantoms that don’t exist. The actors have to portray people playing different roles, only accidentally allowing their true selves to peek through. This is the kind of acting that requires great discipline, much preparation and a whole lot of talent. Fortunately, these are two of the better actors working today, people who elevate every movie they’re in but very rarely get lead roles.

There is some voiceover narration from the couple’s daughter which helps to explain the goings on (and it is much needed) but other than that all the lines (other than background chatter) are spoken by Clarkson and Tucci. Fortunately, Tucci has written compelling dialogue that is not only interesting but gives a good deal of insight not only into the hell these two characters are in but also into the nature of failing relationships in general.

This is a very intimate film in the sense that it delves deeply into the deepest, most private parts of a marriage – and I’m not necessarily referring to the bedroom, although sexuality is touched upon at times. This is about the emotional sanctuary that a married couple provides each other, and what happens when that sanctuary is eroded. It’s very difficult to get it back once it’s gone.

This is not a movie for everybody. It is painful and awkward at times and the emotional places it visits can be very traumatic for those who have been in similar situations. It also requires a certain amount of focus from the viewer to pick up on the nuances, and a willingness to be in a quiet, still place. Still, if you’re willing to commit to the movie, you may find that you get a good deal out of it. What that might be is totally up to you.

WHY RENT THIS: A very powerful look at two people trying to save their marriage in an unorthodox way. Tucci and Clarkson deliver strong performances.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a very emotionally complex movie without a good deal of language; less cerebral viewers may get bored.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a great deal of sexual tension and a fair amount of foul language. These, along with the very adult subject matter, should make this off-limits for kiddies.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The role of Don was originally offered to Tony Shalhoub but when he had to drop out due to schedule conflicts, Tucci decided to take the role himself.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Skeptic