My Year Without Sex is the misleadingly titled new film for writer/director Sarah Watts, her follow-up to Look Both Ways. This is no American Pie prequel, but a wry look at life’s myriad of question for a happy middle-class Aussie family.
Natalie (Sacha Horler) and Ross (Matt Day) have the typically hectic life of two kids and a dog, who interrupt any attempt at intimacy. All is going chaotically swell until Natalie collapses with an aneurism and wakes up with a large scar and lots of fear. The couple are told they need to avoid stress and too much excitement, which includes anything from a sneeze to sex. And then life goes on.
The film touches on many aspects of their lives. Ross, a sound engineer, is working in an unsure world of redundancy whispers and a flirtatious colleague. Their friends, Greg and Winona, live in luxury, while they struggle with bills. Natalie goes to choir practice to break the monotony and befriends Margaret, a curate priest (Maude Davey) who helps her question her faith and religion. Watts has a light touch to her writing and directing; the feel is real rather than dramatic; suggestion rather conclusion. An office flirtation goes no further than ‘almost’; a threat to son Louis ends in football chat; a major argument breaks out over the kids footy. Watts avoids raising the stakes too high, almost as if to protect the fragile Natalie.
There are many standout comic moments: the road rage scene; the quirky call centre encounter; the pet funeral that features a football team song. Watts doesn’t like to waste a scene. And the performances are all very real and endearing. Sacha Horler is up to her usual outstanding standard, and Matt Day sets a new one. The children, Johnathan Segat and Portia Bradley, are loud and loveable and even Bubblehead, the dog, has his moments. Only their superficial friends, Greg and Winona, come across as the caricatures they’re meant to be.
There is a very good heart at the core of this film. You can feel how much Watts loves her characters and the world they struggle in. It’s almost as if she protects them from any pain, which dulls any dramatic edge. My Year Without Sex has many deft, light and lovely touches. It just lacks any real bite that leaves a lingering taste.