Better Than Sex

Movies can be romantic, but they seldom capture the true intimacy of romance. Actors may get naked for a sex scene, but they rarely expose anything more than their bodies. I’ve talked with many actors who tell me that it’s impossible to recreate honest emotion under such conditions.


So by proxy sex scenes in mainstream movies become entertainment. Except for a handful of recent French dramas and the Pamela Lee Anderson bootleg tape, characters spend more time talking about sex than actually engaging in it.

That’s the problem with “Better Than Sex,” a somewhat amusing but ultimately tedious sex comedy that comes out of the saloon with both barrels blazing but ends up shooting blanks before the final frame. The writing and directing debut of Australian Jonathan Teplitzky, “Better Than Sex” arrives ten years too late to make an impact.

The sad thing is I really wanted to like “Better Than Sex” more than I did. It features two winning performances by David Wenham and Susie Porter as a couple who turn a no-strings-attached one night stand into a three-day marathon of sex and pillow talk.

Since most of the film takes place in a cozy apartment loft, it’s important that we like the couple, and Teplitzky is blessed with two actors who trust him enough to expose so much. When Josh (Wenham) and Cin (Porter) aren’t having sex, they’re talking about it.

Josh and Cin talk a lot about sex, sometimes with each other, sometimes to the camera, other times through voice-over narration as they’re doing it. The discussions are supposed to be shocking, irreverent, even insightful, but arriving on the scene after HBO’s more relevant and daring “Sex & The City,” they sound dated.

The two meet at a party in Sydney, and while sharing a cab ride home, decide to spend the night together. Josh, a National Geographic photographer who is due back in London in three days, knows that Cin is nothing more than a one night stand. Cin, a dressmaker, understands the ground rules as well.

Their first night in Cin’s one-room loft is filled with intense passion and the sort of superficial dialogue that is normally associates with a one night stand. Then morning comes, and the two part ways. The separation doesn’t last long, as Josh and Cin find themselves falling back into bed.

For a few fleeting moments, their verbal exchanges are funny and inviting. They say and do things that seem real and honest, and it’s to the credit of the actors that the lesser moments work at all.

Teplitzky’s constant use of cinematic shortcuts doesn’t help. He thinks he’s being clever, but by frequently pulling us out of the plot’s reality, he leaves us with a film that’s better in parts than as a whole.

Australian audiences may find all of this clever and cute, but anyone who has suffered through their fair share of Kevin Bacon/Molly Ringwald romantic comedies will wonder what all of the fuss is about.

The writer-director doesn’t trust his characters enough to tell the story. He relies on gimmicks to make his point. Instead of just enjoying a moment of passion between Josh and Cin, we have to experience their thoughts. John and Cin both come with support teams, who use MTV “Real World”-like on-screen testimonials to dispense advice.

I suspect Teplitzky felt these scenes were necessary to open the film up, which like a play, unfolds on one set. He also tosses in a cab driver who doubles as a quasi-Cupid, an unnecessary distraction that further distances us from the reality of the relationship.

If Teplitzky is winking at us, he has something in his eye. If “Better Than Sex” is supposed to be hip, he aims way too low. As a writer, Teplitzky punches all of the hot topic buttons, but there’s no fire. His arguments and observations seldom rise above the ordinary.

Wenham and Porter, two likeable actors who don’t look like movie stars, understand the weaknesses in the script and play to its strengths. Wenham and Porter are always interesting, but when “Better Than Sex” hits its stride, they really come alive. There are several moments where we not only identify with Josh and Cin, we embrace them, freckles and all.

We do leave with a sense of what these characters are about, but not who they really are. Wenham and Porter go to great lengths to make Josh and Cin more than the sum of their parts, but in the end we never feel that these characters could exist beyond the film’s frame.

“Better Than Sex” might strike a cord with audiences willing to embrace the director’s sense of whimsy more than his ability to create candid characters. Most modern directors would shun Teplitzky’s cinematic conventions, or turn them on their ear and create something totally fresh and exciting.

HARD TO SWALLOW

“Better Than Sex” looks for laughs down under

BETTER THAN SEX

Stars David Wenham, Susie Porter, and Kris McQuade. Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky. Rated R. 93 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $3.00



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