'The Little Death' arouses interest as much as it disappoints

No sexual fantasy goes unpunished — or at least greatly mismanaged — in the dark Aussie comedy "The Little Death." Writer-director-actor Josh Lawson takes on romantic ennui, fetishism, commitment phobia, couples counseling and more with mixed results.

Alternately silly and provocative, strained and funny, the film looks mainly at a quartet of suburban Sydney couples, each at a crossroads in their relationship. The unifying thread: Offbeat sexual measures are seemingly required to fix what's broken in each pairing.

For the unmarried Paul (Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic), it's fulfilling Maeve's secret rape fantasy. Dan (Damon Herriman) and wife Evie (Kate Mulvany) get caught up in role-playing. Rowena (Kate Box) finds dubious ways to make hubby Patrick (Patrick Brammall) cry to satisfy her dacryphilia (sobbing as a turn-on). Phil (Alan Dukes) takes to drugging awful wife Maureen (Lisa McCune) into slumber because he's aroused by watching her sleep. Complications abound for each duo to varying degrees of narrative success.

A late-breaking fifth scenario involves Monica (Erin James), a translator for the deaf staffed at a video relay service, who must act as a go-between for the hearing-impaired Sam (T.J. Power) and an impatient phone sex worker (Genevieve Hegney). The vignette, worthy of its own one-act play, has far more humor and appeal than everything that comes before.

A game cast, including Kim Gyngell as a former sex offender with baking skills, goes a long way in selling Lawson's hard-working material. Ironic use of such Top 40 throwbacks as "Brand New Key" by Melanie and "Make It With You" by Bread is a fun touch.

As for the winking title, it's the English translation of a French idiom for "orgasm."


"The Little Death"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood. Also on video on demand.

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