Film review – My Year Without Sex (2009)

Ruby (Portia Bradley), Ross (Matt Day), Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Louis (Jonathan Segat)
Ruby (Portia Bradley), Ross (Matt Day), Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Louis (Jonathan Segat)

Suburban dramas are a staple genre of Australian national cinema and My Year Without Sex is the latest film to examine the everyday lives of a relatively typical Australian family. This time set in the slowly-being-gentrified western suburbs of Melbourne, My Year Without Sex is neither the best nor the worst example of this type of film, but like the socio-economic status of the family it portrays, it sits somewhere in the middle. The film’s title, its opening ten minutes, which emphasise society’s increasingly sexualization, and giving each segment of the film titles such as “Wet Dream”, “Foreplay”, and “Faking It” suggest that this is a film with a strong sexual theme. However, it’s not and the title refers to the fact that the film covers a period of one year during which wife and mother of two Natalie survives a near fatal brain aneurism and must avoid sex, among other things, to prevent a reoccurrence. My Year Without Sex is basically an observational comedy/drama about coping with everyday life from the point of view of an ordinary family.

The film’s writer and director is Sarah Watt (who is also an animator) and her previous film and feature film début was the brilliant Look Both Ways in 2005. Once again Watt is exploring the theme of mortality and examining the incidental details of how people relate to one another. My Year Without Sex may have been more impressive if Look Both Ways hadn’t created such high expectations as My Year Without Sex feels more like a good student film rather than the follow up to something as good as Look Both Ways. That may be an unfair dismissal of Watt’s desire to create a more simple and self contained film but even with its multiple stories lines and larger cast of characters, Look Both Ways felt less episodic and more empathetic than My Year Without Sex does.  My Year Without Sex does contain a lot of poignant observations about the daily struggle for lower-middle class Australian families facing economic hardship but at the same time it treads some similar ground to Robert Connolly’s more effective 2005 film Three Dollars.

Ross and Natalie
Ross and Natalie

My Year Without Sex is nevertheless a good film and Watt clearly has a natural instinct for writing good dialogue and creating likeable characters that you are happy to spend time with. Sacha Horler (Praise, Soft Fruit) as Natalie and Matt Day (Love and Other Catastrophes, Kiss or Kill) as her husband Ross are perfectly cast. They both embody the right amount of everyday ordinariness and likeability without possessing any of the contrived, bland and white bread characteristics that plague the suburban landscape of Australian TV dramas and soap operas. My Year Without Sex is not as good as Look Both Ways but it is still an intelligent, endearing and recognisable depiction of contemporary Australian families.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

Interview with My Year Without Sex writer/director Sarah Watt from The Casting Couch 23 May 2009

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  1. I think you’re right about the episodic nature. My feeling is that on a scene-by-scene, micro level, the film is beautifully written and observed.

    But on an overall, macro level, the script is not very well structured in dramatic and narrative terms.

    Emotionally it’s too much on the same level, whatever Watt’s intention. There’s an overall flatness to the experience, no sense of build, of moments of intensity relieved by other moments of repose.

    Eg. we’re meant to believe that at one point Horler’s character sinks into depression – but without the chapter titles telling us this I would have had little idea. She seems to get a bit downbeat and then she recovers. No real pain, too much on the surface.

  2. I reckon you’re spot on with the micro/macro thing Lynden. It’s a film that doesn’t hang together as a whole but is instead a series of beautifully nuanced moments.

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