At a party in Sydney, a young man and a young woman catch each other's eye and end up sharing a taxi. She is Cin (Susie Porter), he is Josh (David Wenham), a wildlife photographer from Australia due to return to London, where he now lives, in three days. Their attraction is mutual, but they almost resist stating what's on both their minds: a one-night stand with no strings attached.
Of course that's not the way things will work out, because otherwise there would be no point in debut feature writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky having made "Better Than Sex," a highly contemporary romantic comedy. Consequently, Josh accompanies Cin to her airy loft apartment, where she also works as a fashion designer and dressmaker.
Cin and Josh are exceptionally well-matched. They are notably trim and attractive, their natural good looks giving them an unself-conscious sense of confidence. Cin is in her early 20s, Josh may be a tad older, and neither is a sexual novice. They are comfortable with themselves and each other. Cin's description of Josh's appeal as possessing a "relaxed magnetism" could apply as easily to herself. The sex that swiftly follows leaves just enough to the audience's imagination to avoid the outright pornographic. Their lovemaking is so combustible that they cannot get enough of each other, telling themselves that they're having a grand fling that will be over without any ill effects once Josh boards his plane home. Yet they can't help but noticing, Cin especially, that passion is beginning to ignite.
"Better Than Sex" is funny and honest in tracing the way in which lust can trigger emotion even if it's not supposed to be part of the plan. At first the characters' lovemaking seems merely coy in its avoidance of ultimate explicitness. But in a gradual, lifelike way they acquire dimension and identity, becoming individuals instead of merely sexual objects, both to the audience and to each other. They are now ready to experience emotional vulnerability, that great challenge to young people living in open urban societies in which sexual freedom has become a given.
In short, in a steamy, amusing way Teplitzky touches upon an underlying seriousness. Because he does this with considerable skill, it's altogether unfortunate that not only does he have Josh and Cin address the camera directly on the subject of sex (which he gets away with) but also cuts frequently to Cin's friends, men and women alike, who chime in with their own opinions. This is way too much talk on any subject in a fiction movie, and because it is exclusively about sex, it becomes repetitive and crass, distracting from Josh and Cin and their evolving relationship.
These asides are wholly gratuitous and inevitably undercut, yet luckily do not destroy, the film's impact. They have the effect of interrupting and seeming to pad out a story that actually needs no padding.
Teplitzky has an effortless sense of the visual and of camera movement so that "Better Than Sex" does not seem a play, even though only a few sequences occur outside Cin's loft. Teplitzky has been able to create an exceptional sense of trust from Wenham and Porter, who seem completely natural and spontaneous at all times, even though as actors they've been required to be remarkably uninhibited.
Catherine McClements appears briefly as Cin's annoyingly nosy friend, and Kris McQuade is a taxi driver who seems to have parked in front of Cin's building for the duration, to be available to dispense more advice than transportation. It's a good thing "Better Than Sex," which is pretty raunchy and absolutely not for prudes, does have more than sex on its mind, because otherwise audiences might be tempted to dismiss it as a tease.
Unrated. Times guidelines: Although not graphic, the film has much sex, considerable blunt language and is decidedly adult entertainment.
'Better Than Sex'
David Wenham: Josh
Susie Porter: Cin
Catherine McClements: Sam
Kris McQuade:Taxi driver
A Samuel Goldwyn Films-Fireworks Pictures release. Writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky. Producers Bruna Papandrea, Frank Cox. Executive producer Marc Boundeul. Cinematographer Garry Phillips. Editor Shawn Seet. Music David Hirschfelder. Costumes Kelly May. Production designer Tara Kamath. Set decorator Carisse O'Brien. Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes.
At selected theaters.