My Year Without Sex

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Review by Jane Freebury

There aren’t many mainstream feature films made in Australia that have made mention of sex in their title. Jonathan Teplitsky’s Better Than Sex was one and there was Libido too a long while back, but it’s safe to say our films tend not to be so upfront, and give the word a swerve.

But of course it’s hard to miss. Messages about sex are everywhere in Sarah Watt’s eagerly awaited new film. It is plastered across magazine covers, it’s larger than life on billboards, and hard to avoid on internet and TV, but at Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Ross’s (Matt Day) place it’s off limits in bed, kind of, while she recovers from the operation to remove an aneurism in her brain. For a year afterwards, there must be no heavy lifting, no straining or violent sneezing, and no orgasm.

Her family were going to play a joke and pretend when she woke after surgery that she’d been in a coma for ten years and that in the meantime her daughter Ruby (Portia Bradley) had had a teenage pregnancy and son Louis (Jonathan Segat) had become gay, but they thought better of it. They’d just do their best to carry on as normally as possible.

It’s good to see both Sacha Horler and Matt Day back on the big screen. It has been a long time since they both had substantial movie parts —in the late 1990s, in Soft Fruit and Doing Time for Patsy Kline. Sacha is especially convincing as Natalie, coping with the demands of her kids and convalescence, like having to go to yoga in a wig, making a first trip to the hairdresser after her hair’s grown back and not always managing to hold back the tears and the swear words when she really needs to let rip.

Brain surgery and compulsory abstinence is no joke but Sarah Watt’s gift as a filmmaker is in being able to draw subtle humour from this and life’s little catastrophes with her richly observed comedy of relationships in family life. She would rather the characters drew our empathy than our sympathy here, and strange as it may sound, the film dares to be different with a story about a standard issue nuclear family, with two adults and two kids who are their biological children.

With a background in short film animation and the recent success of Look Both Ways, writer/director Sarah Watt’s approach to suburbia is utterly refreshing, with her distinctive personal touch, drawing on her own family life and experience. Look out for her partner William McInnes, star of Look Both Ways, as you’ve never seen him before in a 30-second cameo.

In a capsule: A young mother’s near-fatal brain aneurism has a long term impact on everyone in her family, but life must go on. A comedy about abstinence and family life with a refreshingly original touch from the talented and observant Sarah Watt, the director of Look Both Ways.

3.5 stars