NOT SUITABLE FOR CHLDREN. Starring Ryan Kwanten, Sarah Snook, Ryan Corr, Bojana Novakovic, Alice Parkinson and Lulu McClatchy. Directed by Peter Templeman. Rated MA15+. (Strong sex scenes). 96 min.
This is an Australian comedy-romance film that was chosen to open the 2012 Sydney Film Festival. Peter Templeman was director of a short film, for which he was nominated for an academy award five years ago. Here, he turns his hand for the first time to a full-length movie.
The film is set in the suburbs of Sydney (Newtown and Erskineville), and tells the story of a pleasure-seeking young man, Jonah Reid (Ryan Kwanten), who parties hard in Sydney’s trendy inner-west with two house-mates, Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Sarah Cook). All three have no inclination to embrace any adult responsibilities, and none has any long-term attachments. After a bout of oral sex one night, a problem looms for Jonah, and he learns to his horror the next day, when he checks things out, that he has testicular cancer. His doctor tells him that after surgery everything will be okay, but he will be rendered completely infertile in four weeks.
On hearing the news, Jonah goes off immediately to a sperm bank, but his sperm won’t freeze. Desperate to have a child before it is too late, he does the rounds of his girlfriends, hoping that they will make him a parent. He starts with Ava (Bojana Novakovic), who refuses him, and then he tries both people he knows, and people he doesn’t, hoping he can have a child in time. He recruits Stevie to find him an “arrangement” that will produce someone - anyone - who will bear him a child. With her help he even tries a lesbian couple (Alice Parkinson, and Lulu McClatchy), who also refuse. Every arrangement turns out to be unsuccessful, and, with four days remaining, Jonah realizes that Stevie is the solution to his problem. She was a child-hater, who thought children were “aliens”, but now she has become accustomed to what he is looking for, and true romance begins to blossom between the two. The film ends up being a touching exploration of an emerging relationship between Jonah and Stevie that is handled comically, and spontaneously.
There are lots of things about this movie that raise problems. Its morality is awful and not to be copied in any way. The thought of looking for any woman, just to have a child, reinforces stereotypes that belong to the world of male sexual fantasy, and one should keep in mind that the same fantasies belittle women. Despite these mine-fields, the film ends up being a positive affirmation of a relationship that is developed by Templeman in a way that shows Jonah and Stevie are people, who humanly matter, despite what they do and think.
A plot like this one signals crudity, and it could have been developed a lot worse than it has been. There is an unexpected freshness to much of the dialogue that comes from quality scripting (like a fellow party-traveller saying, “I cut myself, but I can’t tell where”). The editing and camera work are good; the music sound-track is modern; and the treatment of Jonah and his problems is unusually honest.
What stays in mind with this film are the delightful performances from its two main leads, especially Sarah Snook as Jonah’s girl friend. Her winning smile is warming enough to extract a modicum of sympathy for Jonah’s plight. She gives the film a spark that illustrates its energy.
The subject matter of this film is a difficult one, and its sex scenes are strong. It plays with daring, provocative themes that are meant to entertain, but they will offend some. One comes away from the movie, though, with the feeling that despite its edginess, the film captures the freshness, honesty and realism of unsettled youth.
The title of this film tells you what is wrong with Jonah, but it also carries a clear message to parents, who might otherwise think of permitting their children to see the movie. The film’s classification is a warning, and the title of the movie reinforces it.
Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out July 12th 2012.