Better Than Sex
review by Paula Nechak, 16 November 2001

I hate movies that use puppy-dog earnest talking heads spilling their  genial, limp guts to the camera as a way to propel and disguise flimsy  narrative. It simply sirens the fact that the screenwriter hasn't done an  adequate job and has begrudgingly relied upon tricks to convey his/her story  voice. Worse, the ruse rarely works -- think of the Russell Crowe/Salma Hayek  movie Breaking Up. The disruption of suspension of disbelief can't provide  the one-on-one intimacy that the filmmaker intends -- and which a more linear  and structured plot provides.

After ten minutes of viewing, I wanted to dislike the 1999 Australian  film Better Than Sex purely because it uses the confidence device of  talking heads in spades -- as well as a grinding Greek chorus of a taxi driver  played by Aussie veteran Kris McQuade who comments upon the strife in the  scenario. Yet I was eventually won over by the gutsiness of the two lead  actors, who, in their symbolic and literal nakedness, transcend the script's  amateurish limitations.

In fact those actors, David Wenham (who has heretofore played a  pyromaniac in Cosi, an ex-con sociopath in The Boys and who has made a  potent impression in Belvoir Street Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company  productions) and Susie Porter (equally brave in Two Hands and The Monkey's  Mask), surpass the material written and directed by Jonathan Teplitzky by  miles and manage to eke out a touching tableau about commitment-scared  singles. OK, so they meet, attract and have a one-night stand, believing  Josh's (Wenham) flight back to London in a scant three days will avoid any of  the de rigeur awkwardness that applies to conventional courtship and  coupling, especially for Cin (Porter) -- who has cut and pasted her world to  fit a mold that conveniently forgets previous rejections and precludes the  possibility of future abandonment -- or commitment.

Surprisingly, with the stacked deck of cheap screenplay tricks that  ostensibly should have pushed the film onto the preciousness heap, Better  Than Sex manages to find a poetic and unique voice in the malaise of  independent movies about love and sex and the merging of diffident, dissident  minds and bodies that ultimately leads to inevitable true love.

It's not the willingness of the actors to get naked that makes Better  Than Sex well, better, but the willingness of the actors to bare another  kind of nakedness -- that of the heart and the embarrassing and vulnerable --  that pushes it beyond the ordinary. These are truly daring turns, and Susie Porter especially finds the scary, angry, pointed place that compels a thirty-ish  woman to choose the sanctuary of independence and option of sex as sport and outlet over the unwieldy hope of equal partnership or at least some sense of  fulfillment.

Better Than Sex is shot much like a theatrical play, and that in  itself may have made such savvy actors initially more comfortable with its premise. Had Teplitzky cut those external little darlings and made a movie that lasted an hour instead of filling space with tepid and inconsequential  exposition and, having allowing Wenham and Porter to play out his sexual joust without the peripherals, just might have made a film that transcended  the competition, giving these extraordinary actors a focused trust in and for  their courage.

Written and
Directed by:

Jonathan Teplitzky

Starring:
Susie Porter
David Wenham
Simon Bossell
Imelda Corcoran
Catherine McClements
Kris McQuade

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
acompanying parent
or adult guardian.

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