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Cute but not cutesy

June 8, 2009

Cute has become a much maligned word but it originated as a shortened form of acute and meant  “keenly perceptive or discerning, shrewd”. This, I think, works well as a description of Sarah Watt‘s latest film My Year Without Sex, particularly when combined with more recent meanings of the word such as “charming”.


The basic premise of the film is how a couple copes when the thirty-something wife and mother, Natalie, nearly dies from a brain aneurysm and is advised, on her discharge from hospital, that one of the risk factors is sex! Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Ross (Matt Day) learn earlier than they expected just what those marriage vows, “in sickness and in health”, imply.

Not surprisingly from the title, the film is structured around the months of the year, each month introduced with a different graphic accompanied by a sexually suggestive word/phrase such as “foreplay”, “faking it”, “doggy style” and “climax”. This could come across as artificial and contrived – and it does break up the narrative a little – but its overall impact is whimsical and fun. And it shows off Watt’s roots in animation and design.

The film teases us at times by undermining what we have come to expect of drama – an overlooked scratchie does not turn out to be a winner, a strange older man talking to a young boy does not turn out to be a pedophile.

Sarah Watt has said that “I love the big ticket life questions writ upon small domestic stories”. This is what informed her previous feature, Look Both Ways, and what informs this film. The people are very ordinary: as Natalie says, in answering her child’s question about whether they are middle class, she would like to be a “bit closer to the middle of the middle”! They live an a small, messy suburban home and cope with the day-to-day issues of job insecurity, Christmas shopping, kids birthday parties, and friendships as well as the bigger issue of “what does it all mean”?

The film deals a lot with “chance” and “luck”, from the low-odds chance of experiencing an aneurysm and the luck of its occurring in a doctor’s office, to raffles, scratchies and playing the pokies. Probably life’s biggest lottery though is one’s choice of partner and this is where Natalie and Ross, in the end, discover their best luck lies.

My Year Without Sex is one of those delightful films that does exactly what I would like more films to do – tell Australian stories in a very Australian way, that is, down-to-earth but with a touch of cheeky humour.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. residentjudge permalink
    June 13, 2009 4:31 pm

    Insightful comment about the theme of luck in the film. You’re right about the lost scratchy ticket- when I saw it flutter under the bush, it seemed a little contrived and I thought “Hah- they’ll find it later on and they will win a fortune”- but it was not to be- a nice little dig from Watts, I think, at our jadedness and cynicism!
    Another theme of the film was religion, which Natalie was exploring, drawn in through her friendship with the female minister. In the end, she couldn’t really accept it- certainly Ross rejected it outright. Perhaps it was the determinism of religion that she was rejecting too, which leaves little space for chance and luck.

  2. whisperinggums permalink*
    June 13, 2009 8:40 pm

    Yes, the religion issue was another one I thought about mentioning but decided to keep my comments short and sweet – this blog writing is quite a challenge isn’t it. I read (or was it heard?) one review that felt the Margaret character was a weakness in the film. I can sort of see that but on the other hand I did rather like her. Interestingly a few days later I saw the new Michael Caine film, Is anybody there?. It deals with what happens after death. Way different to this film but it’s funny how themes synchronise a little isn’t it?

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