The Little Death (Josh Lawson, 2014)
While there have been many top quality Aussie drama films of late, the comedy genre has been somewhat lacking on home soil. There is plenty of hilarious homemade television (Please Like Me, Twentysomething, It’s a Date, Summer Heights High to name a few) but feature film efforts often seem to be few and far between, or just not that good. Fortunately, in his big screen directorial and screenwriter debut, Josh Lawson has given us a genuinely funny relationship comedy. It’s definitely not for everyone, however. Prudes need not apply.
As some may have guessed, the title refers to the French expression for orgasm, ‘la petite mort’, which directly translates to ‘the little death’. In a similar (but less PG) style to Love Actually, The Little Death cuts in and out of five separate couples’ lives, who all live in the same neighbourhood. Most of these relationships involve one or more partners’ paraphilias, which makes for some hilarious exchanges, though one or two are somewhat uncomfortable to sit through. Paul (Josh Lawson) likes sucking on toes (ewww!) but girlfriend Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) has far more frightening fantasies. Dan (Damon Harriman) and Evie (Kate Mulvany) try some role-play to help their marriage with surprising results. Richard (Patrick Brammall) can’t pleasure his wife Rowena (Kate Box), until she figures out a rather manipulative way of heightening her arousal. Phil (Alan Dukes) gets berated by his wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) and loses much sleep over it. And innocent Monica (Erin James) gets more than she bargains for when she offers video sign language services to the devilish Sam (T. J. Power). Kim Gyngell plays new neighbour Steve, who has altogether different issues.
All at once, The Little Death is hysterically funny, unsettling, and in parts, touching. Though all the paraphilias in the film are real ones, The Little Death exaggerates the situations to create maximum comedic effect. Even so, at one of the more dramatic exchanges, there was a woman in my audience sobbing, and I assume this was because there is some degree of truth in these stories which will resonate with some viewers. There is surprisingly no nudity involved, although I didn’t even notice this omission which goes to show how unimportant a factor it really is. Lawson has said that nudity is so commonplace in film that its shock value has been so reduced, whereas explicit language around sex can pack a much bigger punch, as it does in The Little Death. I guess if you’re one of those creepy guys who goes to see films about sex purely as a means of getting off, you will be disappointed. But this film wasn’t made for those people.
The Little Death is a black comedy, and came very, very close to crossing the line in a couple of instances. The inclusion of a rape fantasy was used to comical effect, but is that okay? I’m still not entirely sure. I think they just got away with it (they weren’t making a joke of rape, but rather the logistical problems with the fantasy) but some viewers are sure to feel uncomfortable with its inclusion. To a lesser degree, there are also a couple of other characters whose behaviour may cause some uneasy reactions. Most likely there will be some audiences totally put off by this aspect. However, at my screening, the cinema was in hysterics throughout the entire film, and there were no walk-outs.
If you watch any Aussie television, many of the cast will be recognisable (Team Leo!) even if you don’t know their names. They are all fantastic. I was excited to see musical theatre performer Erin James in her first screen role, and she was a highlight as Monica, a young woman working as a sign language translator at a video call centre. Funnily enough, I’ve spoken to her on the phone before! (after winning a competition on her website Aussietheatre.com) Her story arc was arguably the best one – it was at times crass, funny, and probably the most touching of all. The ending is unexpected, but good.
The Little Death is sure to divide audiences, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Again, I would advise you don’t go to see it with your grandmother, or anyone who leans towards the prudish end of the prudometer. If you can appreciate local comedy, can laugh at weird sex stuff, and don’t consider full frontal nudity a necessity, you may be left feeling satisfied.