Sacha Horler, Matt Day
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Without question, Australian director Sarah Watt's My Year Without Sex is my favorite narrative feature coming out of the 2010 Indianapolis International Film Festival. Watt, whose first film Look Both Ways I also fancied immensely, tackles substantially meatier material this time around without quite so many flights of fancy as we encountered in her marvelous yet occasionally gratuitous debut film.
Nowhere near as quirky as the title might imply, My Year Without Sex chronicles the experiences of one family dealing with the sudden and life-changing illness of the mother.
Natalie (Sacha Horler) collapses one August day and undergoes emergency surgery for an aneurysm. As a result, the doctor tells her that she must undergo all forms of excitement or overstimulation.
Well, actually, she and her husband, Ross (Matt Day), don't get any over the course of the year as the family, including the couple's two children (wonderfully played by Jonathan Segat and Portia Bradley) deal with the ins and outs of chronic illness, daily living, learning to cope with life's unpredictability and much, much more.
This is not to say that My Year Without Sex is a weepy drama, because it is not. It's difficult to imagine Watt allowing her film to become submerged in melodrama, as we experienced with Look Both Ways. While the subject matter is decidedly serious, Watt's script is overwhelmingly and richly human and ripe with the kinds of humor that those of us who've experienced chronic illness, including this critic, learn to celebrate. For Natalie and Ross, this is most vividly brought to life through the loss of their sex life, their expressed realizations that everyone around them is "getting it" and their increasing awareness that virtually everything in their culture seems to remind them of sex.
Watt still, on occasion, dips into her gratuitous tendencies as is noted with her somewhat forced transition scenes that are oft-marked by such banners as "going down," "foreplay" and "doggy style," yet where Watt grows as a director is in the way she uses these transitions to disarm the audience into playfulness before being hit with reality once again. There are scenes that are immensely touching, such as when Portia's loss of teeth is virtually ignored by the family and the "tooth fairy," a clear sign that the family has become overwhelmed and distracted and not just by a lack of sex.
While Look Both Ways occasionally used humor while avoiding the big issues, here Watt is almost tenderly weaving her character's experiences in a way that makes the humor feel more natural, healthy and beneficial. What felt like a cinematic gimmick in her first film feels more naturally flowing here and, in turn, it becomes infinitely easier to become invested in the lives of these four people.
It's difficult to use the word joy in describing the performance of a young actress portraying a chronically ill woman, but Sacha Horler embodies Natalie with such an earthy and wondrous humanity that one becomes completely captivated by her. Similarly, Matt Day gives a grounded, believable performance as the husband who is trying to hold the entire family and his libido in check.
Both Jonathan Segat and Portia Bradley excel as the siblings who must suddenly deal with their mom's illness, family stress, financial issues and, yes, a very different Christmas experience because of illness.
Each cast member is as adept at Watt's trademark gentle humor as they are in the film's more serious moments, but it is Watt's incredible ability to blend humor, heart and honesty that turns My Year Without Sex into one of the highlights of the 2010 Indy Film Fest. Watch for the film to be playing on the arthouse circuit courtesy of the folks at Strand Releasing. If it makes it to a theatre near you, be sure to catch it.
My Year Without Sex also features a stellar soundtrack that includes Uncle Bill and The Renovators among others. For more information on the film, visit the My Year Without Sex website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic