Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: My Year Without Sex

My Year Without Sex
Dir. Sarah Watt
Year: 2009
Aus Rating: M
Running Time: 96mins

In only two feature film, writer/director/animator Sarah Watt has already proven herself to be one of the most important voices in Australian cinema. After the grand debut of Look Both Ways (which won the AFI for Best Film amongst others) she has given us the effortlessly charming My Year Without Sex. Watt creates such real and wonderful characters that help take away from the themes that many deem unpalatable for audiences. It's going to be incredible hard for another Australian film this year - hell, try any film this year - to put forth as honest and delightfully flawed characters as Watt has here.

Starring Sacha Horler (Praise) and Matt Day (returning from overseas TV work such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl) as an ordinary married middle class suburban couple with two kids (Jonathan Segat and Portia Bradley). When Horler's Natalie suffers an aneurysm her life takes many different turns. Split into twelve separately themed segments - and with the help of inventive title cards thanks to Maryjeanne Watt and Patrina White - the film flies by as the family go on vacation, enjoy Christmas and Easter, deal with a potential loss of job and even a potential diversion into born again Christianity. Yet along the way Watt never loses sight of the indelible truths behind her characters.

It is just so enjoyable to watch characters that one knows in real life portrayed so lovingly on screen. These characters are not shown in a particularly glamourous light, but nor are they mocked for being nothing but normal. It has become a habit of Australian cinema to feel the need to portray suburbia in the traditional Aussie Gothic manner filled with quirky weirdos and social deviants, but Watt has none of that. Even a Priest character, played by the ever-wonderful Maud Davey, is never mocked or laughed at, something Paul Cox could learn lesson or two from. And while it is nice to see realistic characters on screen - a problem that is far too common with Australian films is that the characters are so unrealistically written - that doesn't always make a good film. Thankfully Watt has surrounded them with spirited comedy, delightful supporting characters and injected the main family with true blue Aussie humour and spirit. The film even ends with an all-in singalong to Little Birdy's "Beautiful to Me" and I defy anyone to not sit there and just grin.

The cast is all tops, too. Horler - a three time AFI award winner - continues to go places few actresses do and does so with such cutting delivery. Matt Day, whose last Australian film was Hell Has Harbour Views in '05, makes a fine everyman and plays a bit like a ladies crumpet. The two kids, too, are excellent, especially Jonathan Segat who has a particularly awkward, but well-played, moment at a cinema that plays like a mini tight wire act. The supporting cast, from Maud Davey to Katie Wall right on through to a hilarious cameo by William McInnes (although try and spot it before you read the cast list.)

Sometimes there are movies that just put big ol' smiles on your face and I suspect My Year Without Sex will be one of those movies for many people. Look Both Ways was a surprise word-of-mouth hit and I can only hope that the same fate belongs to Watt's sophomore effort. It has more charm, wit and love in one scene than most films have in their entirety. It's a triumph. B+

My Life Without Sex is out late May.

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