The Little Death

This review contains spoilers.

I’ve been in the mood for a comedy lately, and this was recommended by a friend of mine. I watched it late on a Friday night after finishing the final edit of my novel. Maybe it was partly because my brain was in desperate need of a break, but I found The Little Death immensely enjoyable, and very funny. It was great to see an Aussie film that is both clever and entertaining; a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still has some wonderfully serious moments.

The Little Death follows five middle-class couples from Sydney, and focuses on the difficulties they face when it comes to communicating and satisfying their sexual fantasies. Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) wants her boyfriend Paul (writer and director Josh Lawson) to rape her; Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dan (Damon Herriman) experiment with role-play; Phil (Alan Dukes) likes to watch his wife (Lisa McCune) while she’s asleep; Rowena (Kate Box) can only climax when she sees her husband (Patrick Brammall) cry; and Sam (T.J. Power) enjoys making sexually explicit phone calls to strangers like Monica (Erin James). The couples are connected by theme (sex), setting (the same suburban street), and Steve (a golliwog purveying sex offender played by Kim Gyngell).

The Little Death is well written, intelligent, and generally feels very well put together. There are some fantastically funny lines, delivered by a talented cast. Other moments are surprisingly moving, and work in happy-contrast to the humour. According to my friend audiences in Australia loved The Little Death; critics, on the other hand, were not so impressed. I always read reviews of films (and books) after watching them, and after giggling all the way through The Little Death I was surprised to discover that reviewers didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. Many complained that the disconnected stories resulted in characters that weren’t fleshed out enough. To me, The Little Death is intended to be much more about theme than character. It didn’t really matter, I felt, that the characters were not deeply and psychologically explored – they were there to make a point about the way sex is talked about (or not talked about) in Australian middle-class society, and so they inevitably had to serve as representations of a wide range of people. SBS reviewer Fiona Williams called The Little Death “a cautionary tale of people who pick the wrong partners.” But I don’t think that’s true of the film at all. It’s not the partners who are wrong, it’s the fact that they are unable to talk to each other in any meaningful way about what they really want; a truth about society that is often hilarious funny, but also profoundly sad.

The dramatic moments are emotionally affecting, and surprising: a post-attempted-rape proposal, Rowena’s “pregnancy”, Phil’s car accident. However, they did feel a little out of place to me. I got the sense that The Little Death was perhaps trying to be too many things at once: a drama, a black comedy, a sitcom, an art-house collection of vignettes. This is not to say that a film shouldn’t or can’t be many things, or that it has to fit into a genre at all. Perhaps where this film loses its way a bit is in trying to do too much in too short a time. I did feel like the ending came too quick – I was expecting a little more from each story, to sort of close things off. And the final scene between Sam and Monica (which is by far the best part of the film – funny, cute, romantic, genuinely touching) could have benefited from a few more scenes of build up. I also wanted a more surprising end for Steve – it seemed a little easy just to kill the sex offender. I was sort of hoping Steve would turn out to be a mirror to the ostensibly ‘normal’ characters in the film – contrasting with their own sexual deviations, perhaps redefining sex not as normal versus abnormal, but rather normal versus harmful.

But overall I really liked The Little Death. I will be interested to see what these creators come up with next.

The Little Death was released internationally with the (terrible) title A Funny Kind of Love. It was filmed in Sydney, and had its world premiere at the 2014 Sydney Film Festival.


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