Hooray for a couple of grownup movies about sex and love and the intersection between the two. Hooray for a couple of movies about hangups and neuroses and anxieties about our bodies and our desires that aren’t about teenagers trying to get laid but adults still trying to figure it all out. (Sorry, teenagers trying to get laid. It doesn’t necessarily get better once you do.)
The Little Death, the feature debut from Australian writer-director Josh Lawson, is exactly the sort of cheeky morbid you might expect from the title (and nothing like the bland rom-com you might expect from the title the film got saddled with in the U.K., A Funny Kind of Love). This roundrobin tale of five Sydney couples is a veritable tour of sexual fetishes, some ordinary, some so unusual that I’d never even considered that anyone might find such things arousing. I won’t spoil what those are, but the one that is perhaps the unlikeliest and apparently the most harmless one ends up dragging the couple it bedevils — and bedevil it does — down a dark path of manipulation that cannot ever be good for a relationship. Oddly, this isn’t a sexy movie in the least, for all its bold and very welcome frankness. Instead, it’s funny in a way that critiques romantic dysfunction. Oh, it’s not the fetishes that render these couples dysfunctional but the keeping of secrets and the shame that goes along with that. There’s wise understanding here, of human foibles and quiet miseries, and a hint of hope. But there’s also recognizable horribleness in how easy it is to get so caught up in we need from our partners that we are blinded by what they need from us.
The Overnight is the second feature from American writer-director Patrick Brice, and it could well represent a sixth and seventh couple snatched from The Little Death and given their own movie. Alex (Adam Scott: Hot Tub Time Machine 2) and Emily (Taylor Schilling: Argo) are new in Los Angeles and looking to make friends for themselves and their young son, and a chance encounter at the playground ends up in a pizza party with Kurt (Jason Schwartzman: The Grand Budapest Hotel), Charlotte (Judith Godrèche: The Man in the Iron Mask), and their little boy. Kurt and Charlotte appear to have the perfect life, be the perfect couple. They’re almost too ridiculously perfect, and Alex and Emily find it a little weird, and then it starts to descend into the downright unnerving, particularly when the evening threatens to lay bare some uncomfortable realities of their sex life, which doesn’t seem to measure up to Kurt and Charlotte’s adventurousness. Brice and his marvelous cast cleverly lead these characters through an emotional obstacle course that starts out sweetly optimistic, turns to uncomfortable farce, and ultimately ends up somewhere poignant and ripped with compassion for the vulnerabilities everyone finally has on raw display.