Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Better Than Sex (2000)

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky                             Writer: Jonathan Teplitzky
Film Score: David Hirschfelder                         Cinematography: Garry Phillips
Starring: David Wenham, Susie Porter, Kris McQuade and Catherine McClements

This is one of those unfortunate films that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. It had an interesting premise, and I even thought the actors were pretty good. But it felt flat to me, and was never able to overcome the weight of the expectations I had for it. Better Than Sex is an Australian film by writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky. In essence it is a romantic comedy, but struggles to find its voice throughout its running time and never really does. There’s a lot of sex in the film, but it is tastefully done and doesn’t devolve into awkwardness because of it. Some of the criticism of the film is that it feels like a stage play and, as most film do that originated in that way, it gives a stilted quality to the production. What it mostly reminds me of is a small, independently produced film by local director, but it’s probably the age of the film that makes me feel that way. The cuts to the principals talking to the camera feels a bit like When Harry met Sally, but it’s not horrible. It’s definitely a watchable film, and certainly has its fans. It’s just something that I wouldn’t watch more than once.

The film begins with David Wenham waking up in bed with Susie Porter. His arm is under her head and he wants to move it, but she wakes up anyway. And suddenly he disappears under the covers. The narrative is also injected with the actors talking to the camera about what they were feeling and going through at the time. It’s an interesting idea, and if I had seen the film a decade earlier it might have been more interesting, but as it is it just seemed dated. Afterwards, Wenham begins getting dressed and talks about leaving. He’s only in Sydney for three days and then flying back to London. He walks out of her apartment and down to a phone booth where he calls his friend to ask for Porter’s number. Then both his friends and hers pass the gossip back and forth about them spending the night together. The most interesting part of the film is watching the evolution of two people who know absolutely nothing about each other, but don’t want their time together to end. That much is charming. The screenplay itself, on the other hand, feels a bit forced, and tries too hard to be comedic when the film might have played better--and actually been funnier--if it had been played straight.

As the story takes them from one day to the next, they go through the arc of a relationship, learning their idiosyncrasies, and sort of breaking up when one of Porter’s girlfriends, Catherine McClements, comes over and tries to flirt with Wenham. The Greek chorus in all of this is the cab driver, Kris McQuade, who brought the two home, and she is definitely one of the highlights of the film. When Wenham tries to leave after his argument with Porter, McQuade convinces him--by refusing to take him anywhere--to go back and share something about himself with her. Poor David Wenham, who began his career trajectory by doing some work in interesting films, will forever be associated with his role as the goofy friar in Van Helsing. Susie Porter is really a fascinating actress but she has stayed in Australia, working primarily in television. Both are good in the film, and both the film and its stars and director won numerous awards in Australia. Though the film never really makes it clear, the answer to the title is true love. Better Than Sex is a watchable romantic comedy that will definitely depend on the individual to decide exactly how good it is.

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