‘The Little Death’ Can’t Comedically Release its Multiple Sexual Hangups

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There’s a fetish for everything. That’s not bring judgement down on anyone (except Bronies), it’s to acknowledge that the human mind is capable of being turned on by practically anything imaginable. With his debut as a writer-director, Josh Lawson has attempted to make a comedy that pokes fun at the varied fetishes of his characters while calling into question societal standards of normalcy. However, The Little Death fails to meet its ambitions, failing to garner laughs from its flawed fetishists.

Taking its title from la petit mort, the French slang for orgasm, The Little Death follows the pained sexual exploits of five couples in the suburbs of Australia. The first couple is Paul (Lawson) and Maeve (Bojana Novakovic). He enjoys sucking on her toes and she has a rape fantasy that makes him uncomfortable. The second couple is Evie (Kate Mulvany) and Dan (Damon Herriman). They’re having trouble sexually in their relationship and attempt role play to spice up their life. The third couple is Rowena (Kate Box) and Richard (Patrick Brammall), who have failed to conceive a child. Rowena experiences a sexual awakening when she discovers she’s turned on by witnessing her husband cry. The fourth couple is Phil (Alan Dukes) and Maureen (Lisa McCune). He is turned on by watching his wife sleep. The final couple, I guess you could say that, is Monica (Erin James) and Sam (T.J. Power). She works for a service that relays calls for the deaf, and she assists Sam in calling a phone sex line. There’s also Steve (Kim Gyngell), who just moved into the neighborhood and presents everyone with Golliwog cookies, an outdated racist cookie that reminds most people of their past, before informing them of his status as a convicted sex offender. Everyone seems to follow their impulses in to the reigns of self-destruction, though never as funny as the film seems to think.

Most of the fetishists in The Little Death take their sexual desires down a rabbit hole that will destroy their lives. It places each of the fetishes examined with a really kind of prudish, moralistic lens. Each of these characters will cross certain moral lines and be punished for it – it’s an awkward approach to sex comedy. Paul’s attempt to fulfill Maeve’s sexual fantasy, but is left with a fractured skull in return. Dan finds himself carried away by the role play, thinking himself an actor until Evie eventually leaves him. In order to make her husband cry so she can get off, Rowena stages a web of lies that include a cancer scare. In the creepiest storylines of all, Phil continually drugs Maureen so he can caress and admire his sleeping wife. It’s never explicitly presented as a rape, but he is still unknowingly drugging someone for his own sexual gratification – that’s pretty damn rapey. Phil faces his punishment in a car crash. It’s odd how in five different intersecting stories that all but one feature a physical or emotional consequence for engaging in their particular kink.

As a director, Josh Lawson does know where to place the camera and brings a bit of spunk to the screen in some of his scenes. But he can never find a tempo to the multiple stories on screen. There’s no flow between the stories, and what little flow was present comes to a screeching halt during the last 20 minutes, which are exclusively devoted to the deaf relay phone sex scene. This all happens before the film’s loose ends come crashing together in an extremely unsatisfying conclusion.

Instead of drawing its title from la petite mort, The Little Death should’ve opted for la petite triste, The Sad Death. Even if I believe that the moralism of The Little Death is accidental, it still doesn’t excuse the film’s inability to mine its situations for humor or relatability. The film is incapable of mining kinks for laughs without judgement in the manner of John Waters. The Little Death can’t figure out its internal messaging that it opts to punish everyone for their indulgences, rather than the ones guilty of selfish excess. There’s nothing really sexy or funny about that.

The Little Death opens in select theater and is available on VOD starting June 26th, 2015. Go to the film’s official site for more details.

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