The Little Death

Year: 2014
Production Co: Head Gear Films
Director: John Lawson
Writer: John Lawson
Cast: John Lawson, Bojana Navakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Patrick Brammall, Kate Box, Erin James, TJ Power, Kim Gyngell

Josh Lawson does something particular in Australian films that's quite rare. He stars in (and now makes, this being his writing and directorial debut) movies that are simply about people rather than trying to trade on some kind of unique 'Australian-ness' like many films that come from down under.

The most visible example was his role in Any Questions For Ben?, the last film from Working Dog (the team behind The Dish and The Castle, most of whom use to comprise The D Generation on Aussie TV). Like The Little Death, it was just about a guy navigating life and love – there were no red dogs, outback vistas or crocodiles further cementing the stereotypes the rest of the world still equates with Australia.

The Little Death exists in a similar creative universe. It's about everyday urban dwellers with jobs, lives and marriages they're all trying to get through with dignity and their hearts intact. We're introduced to a handful of couples who live on the same street, all of them discovering or sharing strange sexual predilections that come out in ways that range from comic to tragicomic.

Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie (Kate Mulvany) discover a penchant for role-play Dan starts to take a little bit far. Phil (Alan Dukes) loves his wife Maureen (Lisa McCune), but she's a bit nasty and shrewish and he likes it so much more when things are quiet, like when she's asleep. Richard (Patrick Brammall) and Rowena (Kate Box) are having trouble conceiving, and Kate's not getting much out of the effort to do so before an unexpected turn of events prompts a strange new hunger in her.

And Maeve (Bojana Navakovic) tells Paul (writer/director Lawson) about a rape fantasy she has that ultimately gets a little bit disturbing for a romantic comedy.

The story jumps from one couple's misadventures to the next, leaving them altogether for the final couple we've only had a quick glimpse of, partially deaf phone relay service operator Monica (Erin James) and deaf phone sex customer Sam (TJ Power). It does something interesting with the structure of the narrative to bring us the most romantic and funniest story of the lot in Monica and Sam, and it does so rather than wrap up the rest of the stories in a traditional climax.

In fact it's the first of several unexpected elements that make The Little Death better than you expect. It doesn't tie every couple's conundrum up neatly - Rowena in particular has dug an awkward hole for herself, and we leave Dan and Evie when things are at their worst between them.

The second thing the film does is skirt some very thin edges beyond which things could turn ugly and offensive. Maeve's rape fantasy is one, another is the recurring character of Steve (Kim Gyngell), knocking on the other characters' front doors to introduce himself because he's required by law to tell them he's a registered sex offender.

Instead, Lawson manages to contain everything in territory that makes it an earnest love story that isn't afraid to push the envelope.

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