Sylvia Hersh Joy Smithers Viv Miranda Otto Tracy Tessa Humphries John Mark Lee Morris Rhett Walton Tom Timothy Jones Dan Jonathon Sammy-Lee
Inspired by films like Denys Arcand’s “The Decline of the American Empire,” in which a clutch of characters get together to natter on about their personal problems and overlapping relationships, “Sex Is a Four Letter Word” is a familiar but entertaining and well-acted comedy-drama. Made without any input from Aussie government funding agencies, Murray Fahey’s third feature should do modest biz and attract couch potatoes when it’s launched on video.
The gabfest unfolds in real time during a dinner party given by Sylvia (Joy Smithers), who edits a lonely-hearts column in a femme magazine, and her partner , Morris (Rhett Walton), who are going through a rough passage in their relationship; Sylvia has recently had an abortion and hasn’t allowed Morris to touch her since.
Guests are Tracy (Tessa Humphries), a brittle fashion model who’s been having an affair with Morris although Sylvia’s her best friend; John (Mark Lee), a charming but, as it turns out, crafty homo-sexual; Viv (Miranda Otto), a youthful, uninhibited fashion designer; Tom (Timothy Jones), her bisexual boyfriend, who also has a history with John; and Dan (Jonathon Sammy-Lee), a brooding loner whom Tracy accuses of once having beaten her, which he denies. The baked dinner Sylvia was preparing gets burned to a crisp when Morris and Tracy, canoodling in the kitchen, accidentally ignite the gas, but it’s no time before pizzas are delivered (writer-producer-director Fahey does a bit as the delivery boy).
Meanwhile, Sylvia encourages her guests to talk about their sexual experiences past and present while she videotapes them. These revelations are fun for a while, but take an ominous turn when recent history is revealed. Most of the action takes place in the lounge/dinning room of the small apartment, but as the evening wears on and plenty of wine and marijuana are consumed, the participants move outside.
Though it breaks no new ground and is structured more like a stage play than a film, “Sex” is diverting, low-scale entertainment, thanks mainly to the excellent performances, with the women especially good. Humphries (daughter of Barry Humphries) and Otto (daughter of actor Barry Otto) are terrifie as the outgoing Tracy and Viv, while Smithers touches as the bruised Sylvia. Lee (remembered as Mel Gibson’s pal in Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli”) does an effective turn as the untrustworthy John, and the rest fill their roles adequately.
Fahey does his best to make the constant chatter as cinematic as possible, and succeeds on an obviously tiny budget. His screenplay is rude at times, which may pose problems for some TV networks. Brian Kavanagh’s editing maintains a seamless flow, and production values are adequate.