Sunday, 5 June 2016

Movie Review: Not Suitable For Children (2012)

We’re dipping into the Sarah Snook pool again, and since looking at her American productions last time didn’t turn out so well, I figure we should head back to the home land this time around. And since we’re already talking about an Aussie actor that I sincerely hope gets more work internationally, it looks like we’re heading for a trifecta with today’s subject. Alongside Snook, we also have Ryan Corr who long(er)-time readers will remember as having tremendously impressed in Holding The Man and emerging from the muddied Water Diviner as the best part of the entire film. And then there’s Ryan Kwanten, whom I’ve also discussed before but not exactly in the most prime circumstances. I mean, I seem to be in the minority when it comes to Blinky Bill: The Movie, and Kidnapping Mr. Heineken didn’t seem to do anyone any favours on either side of the screen. Another minority opinion though, but I really liked him back with Dead Silence, so we’re three-for-three in terms of people I want to succeed. But when they’re all together, do they actually succeed? This is Not Suitable For Children.


The plot: Partygoer Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) suddenly discovers that he has testicular cancer. Fortunately, it’s treatable, but unfortunately, he will never be able to father children once it is treated. With one month to go until his operation, it’s up to Jonah and his best friends Stevie (Sarah Snook) and Gus (Ryan Corr) to find a way for him to be a father before time runs out.

Since we’re dealing with not one but three pieces of prime Australian product, and they’re all in the lead roles, figure we might as well start at the top in more ways than one. Corr is ultimately playing the oblivious best friend through a lot of it, but he brings a charisma that honestly makes for an indelible performance. Much like he’d accomplish a few short years later with Holding The Man, he is probably one of the most enduring embodiments of mateship that we’ve got. Similar can be said for Snook, who goes through the usual “female lead in a rom-com” transition with shocking ease. And then there’s Kwanten, who does a valiant job at making his character work. That may seem obvious, as that is the job of just about any actor who is legitimately trying, but he’s been given a whopper as I’ll soon get into. His rapport with Corr just furthers emphasizes how natural the relationships in this movie feel, and his chemistry with Snook is nigh-on impeccable. On his own, whether it’s the tremendous highs or the depressingly surreal lows, he lands every dramatic leap he’s asked to make. Alongside the supporting cast, including a decent turn from Lewis Fitz-Gerald as Jonah’s doctor and Bojana Novakovic working nicely in a small but nonetheless pivotal role as Ava, the other name that sticks out most prominently in my mind would have to be Kathryn Beck playing Becky, or ‘Stalker Becky’ as Stevie refers to her as. I bring her up specifically because she seems to personify the attitude that is very much at this film’s core: The Australian approach to sex.

Maybe it’s because of our still-lingering umbilical cord connection to Great Britain, as they share similar mentalities as we do over here, but Australians as a whole have a rather frank point of view when it comes to sex. It is probably the main thing that we can openly talk about anymore without running the risk of verbal hellfire being thrown our way. And even then, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. With this in mind, the fact that this premise would crop up in an Aussie film isn’t all that surprising. What it is, from the offset, is worrying. A guy who absolutely has to conceive a child within a month or it will never happen? A side effect of our frankness is our willingness to joke about such topics, and the jokes that immediately spring up from this kind of set-up are usually followed by the words ‘Cards Against Humanity’, ‘4chan’ or ‘the boss would like a word with you’. This is why I’m also thankful of another trend with Aussies: We are very open and honest about ourselves too. As such, this film doesn’t take any cheap punches when it comes to its plot and actually takes a thoughtful route with how it progresses. Rather than just resorting to a single joke/format for the entire running time, writer Michael Lucas seems to have done his homework and looked into the numerous avenues that are possible when it comes to conception: Surrogacy, sperm donation, hunting for girlfriends, etc. That last one may seem a bit heavy and awkward... and that’s because it is.

Since I’m made it abundantly clear when it comes to my own perspective towards indie quirkiness and the writing habits involved with it, I won’t go over that entire rigmarole again. The only thing I’ll bring up again is how those habits were born out of a want to portray more realistic relationships and conversations than most big-budgeted fare. I bring this up because this film is awkward with a capital wince. Through Jonah’s quest to quickly find a girlfriend to his grilling over why he wants to be a father, right down to the sobering finale the story reaches, we get inordinately heavy doses of collar-pulling throughout. Bear in mind that I am not mentioning this as a negative, though. On the contrary, as the fact that these conversations can get rather embarrassing just goes to prove how close to the grain this dialogue cuts, and it only helps to strengthen the relationships contained within. It can get a bit much at times, like when Jonah is being interviewed by a prospective lesbian couple, but as a whole, the discomfort levels never really reach the point where you actively feel like you need to look away from the screen. I mentioned how these characters feel like actual mates on screen, and that’s what makes the more uncomfortable situations easier to sit through. They feel real, and in turn so does the drama, for as disarmingly existential as it can get.

The need to procreate is one of the most innate human instincts, right next to the need to preserve one’s own life. Because of this, while the main plot may be adjacent to certain... unsavoury questions about the relationships between men and women, it hits this weird emotional resonance that would likely be lost in lesser hands. Jonah’s methods may be ill-advised, best shown in the speed-dating montage where he desperately tries to find a prospective mate (and utterly fails), but the reasons why he would do so make some sense. It follows a similar vein to Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, where the sudden development involving becoming a father makes the character suddenly take stock when it comes to their own verging-on-hedonistic lifestyles. Given my previous railings on certain feminist doctrine, I find myself with a sudden urge to wonder how the film would turn out if the genders were reversed... but such discussions are left to those with far greater intelligence than some guy who makes dick jokes on the Internet. Instead, at face value, his dilemma concerning having children is made more intense as the film goes through pretty much every alternative possible and, in a feat of kicking a man while he’s down not seen since Leviathan, they all turn to dead ends. It’s all of this build-up that makes the ending, while mildly predictable, rather satisfying as an arc for all the people involved. That and, considering the subject matter involved, it ends on the most fitting line of dialogue possible.

All in all, this has remarkable clarity for what so easily could have been a simple one-joke film. Through stellar acting from our main cast, and some weirdly memorable performances from the supports, this film manages to deliver on its premise with a very thoughtful script that treats the subject material, and in turn the audience, with the utmost respect and intelligence. For an idea that so easily could’ve just devolved into a slightly saner version of the finale to Bad Biology, that is certainly an achievement. It ranks higher than Pitch Perfect, as the writing here doesn’t end up sabotaging the major selling points of the film itself; probably because the writing here is the major selling point. However, on that same token, it ranks lower than Looper which, while muddled in terms of pacing, wins out thanks to my weakness for good time travel stories.

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