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19° & CLOUDY ON FRIDAY 22 NOVEMBER IN SYDNEY
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2014
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The Little Death

A Love Actually for sex, kink and fetishes.
By Sarah Ward
September 22, 2014
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Taking its title from the French euphemism for orgasm, The Little Death wears its risque approach as a badge of honour. Erotic fetishes furnish six slight vignettes, purporting to normalise types of between-the-sheets behaviour; as the saying goes, everyone's doing it. Alas, more than parodying private peccadillos is needed to turn apparently twisted trysts into a smart sex comedy. Edginess doesn't equal astuteness, nor does painting with sitcom-style strokes cover ill-explored content.

Any Questions for Ben? and House of Lies' Josh Lawson writes, directs and stars in an effort destined to be labelled a physicality fuelled Love Actually. Four couples monopolise the anthology feature, each with relationship issues. Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) wants Paul (Lawson) to fulfil her rape fantasies. Rowena (Kate Box) finds herself aroused whenever husband Richard (Patrick Brammall) cries. Phil (Alan Dukes) finds Maureen (Lisa McCune) at her most attractive when she is sleeping. Dan (Damon Herriman) and Evie (Kate Mulvany) make a foray into roleplaying that backfires.

As the linking device between the tales, a new neighbour (Kim Gyngell) makes visits to disclose he's a registered sex offender. A final segment tackles phone sex and disability, as the hearing-impaired Sam (T.J. Power) places a call aided by operator Monica (Erin James).

Finding farce in intimacy is far from a new conceit; however, it isn't enough to simply bring up taboo topics in contrived circumstances, especially in a superficial manner devoid of depth, discussion or development. Courting controversy and causing a reaction appears the film's only ambition, not thoughtfully examining sources of sexual satisfaction rarely addressed, or contemplating the human core of our deepest desires.

Indeed, in pursuing broad and easy amusement, characterisation is absent — particularly regarding women. Unacceptable categorisations and implausible choices prevail, rendering female protagonists naive, cruel, selfish or complaining, whilst attempts to place Maeve and Rowena in charge of their destinies are undone by one-note personalities. Men, contrastingly, are presented with sympathy, even when potentially crossing the line. Consider Paul planning an elaborate rape upon request, and Phil drugging his wife to escape her nagging, the feature skirting around the latter's creepy consequences.

The last standalone story may boast sincerity and sweetness otherwise lacking, followed by awkwardly offering comeuppance, but a late burst of heart and consequences can't overcome the bulk of the film's horrific skewering of kinkiness in rom-com confines. Though the ensemble cast toils valiantly and Lawson helms competently, each is poorly served by sketches neither dark nor different. Alas, The Little Death is not the subversive work it intends, instead just gratifying a too-neat account of the same offensive, over-used stereotypes of middle-class sex and romance.

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