This review was originally posted during our coverage of the 2014 Leeds Film Festival.
Australian film has seen as resurgence in the 21st century. Not since the heyday of the 1970s has the antipodean cinema scene enjoyed such a swell in international popularity. For a very long time, the only films to come out of Australia were comedies. These films were representative of Australian cinema to the world at large and determined what kind of movie was considered commercially viable in its home country. This resulted in a rush of Australian comedy films that stuck fast to the rule of diminishing returns. Thank God then that we have had such a great run of Australian films lately and more particularly, the absolutely terrific sex comedy, The Little Death.
A portmanteau film that’s a little reminiscent of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and the work of Woody Allen, The Little Death is absolutely concerned with sex. Each story encapsulates the delicate realm of sexual honesty. On the one hand, every couple should probably be honest about their own sexual peccadilloes, but on the other hand, an over commitment to that idea could lead to your downfall.
Each couple in this film have a sexual epiphany; one woman has a rape fantasy that she wants her boyfriend to help fulfil and another woman who has not had an orgasm in 3 years realizes she gets aroused whenever her husband cries. We’re also introduced to a man is so belittled by his wife that he is most turned on when she is sleeping, a guy who gets a little too into role playing with his wife that it sparks dreams of becoming an actor, and a sign language interpreter who meets a possible future beau on Skype when she has to translate a phone sex line into sign language for him.
The best thing about The Little Death is that it is Funny, with a capital “F.” While the initial set up of each story is amusing in and of itself, it is the way the film builds on these that is truly hilarious. It really is a comedy of errors, as each scenario is taken to its logical conclusion in very real ways.
Rowena’s (Kate Box) embarrassment to reveal to her husband that his tears turn her on leads to her concocting more and more elaborate schemes to make him cry. While Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) is upfront with Paul (director Josh Lawson) about her rape fantasy, his attempts to make this a reality are at first uncomfortable and then just downright traumatic. Sure, these are dark subjects for a comedy, but Lawson treats it all with such a lightness of touch and a frankness that you can’t help but to laugh
The greatest and funniest moment comes when partially deaf sign language interpreter Monica (Erin James) is working a late shift at the Skype service where she works to connect deaf people to phone calls and interprets what is being said. She gets connected with Sam (TJ Power), who wants to call a phone sex line. Monica reluctantly obliges and what follows is one of the funniest and most heart-warming moments in cinema in a good long while. It is also one of the more original meet-cutes in history; just when you thought that trope had been done to death, this was perfectly pitched. It feels like out of all the couples in this film who are struggling with sexual honesty, Monica and Sam have done it right. Their first meeting involves an upfront sexual dialogue where they realize they have similar tastes, so perhaps being upfront from the very beginning about your sexual peccadilloes is the foundation for a lasting relationship.
While this is a strong and very funny comedy, the portmanteau aspect of The Little Death can tend to make it feel like a collection of short films about sex that are loosely connected. Due to this, there is not much narrative momentum. Each of the characters do meet or pass one another though and there is a connecting character played by Kim Gyngell, who’s a registered sex offender making the rounds in the neighbourhood as he is required to do so by Federal law. His presence also allows some of the plot threads to dovetail at the end of the film, but otherwise, the only real connection these stories have with one another is the overriding subject matter and themes. The vignettes really do inform one another and are a nice little collection with a thread running through it, but it will be nice to see what director Josh Lawson does with a more cohesive feature film narrative in the future.
Still, The Little Death is extremely funny and at the end of the day that is all a comedy needs for success. Lawson is a great new comedic voice for not just Australian cinema but cinema at large. Each story’s construction and comic timing is almost perfect and there are great performances from the entire cast here, helping to properly capture the playful tone and the pathos, which this film has in spades. For fans of comedy, this one is a must see.