This review was corrected on June 21, 2000.
Think “Last Tango in Paris” sans the angst and you get the basic idea of “Better Than Sex,” a potentially potent date movie that seldom strays far from the bedroom in which a pair of strangers get to know each other in the most intimate fashion. In Australia, where the attractive actors, especially David Wenham (who rose to fame via the popular TV series “SeaChange”), are well known, distrib New Vision should have a solid success on its hands. Elsewhere, and with the right handling, arthouse box office could sizzle happily as viewers in their 20s and 30s discover this cheekily diverting, decidedly feel-good, tremendously sexy entertainment.
In the U.S., pic should scrape by with an R rating, despite the just-offscreen oral action and plenty of talk about a variety of sexual positions and experiences. Though nudity abounds, there’s only fleeting female, and no male, full frontal visuals.
Opening credits roll over the wreckage of a bedroom the morning after as the sated couple awake to a new day. In direct-to-camera interpolations, Josh (Wenham) and Cin (Susie Porter) reveal how they met the night before at a party; they shared a taxi ride afterward and, though Cin is aware that Josh is leaving the country in just three days, she invited him up to her one-room apartment, where she works, off and on, as a dressmaker.
Josh, an Aussie wildlife photographer based in London, is heading back there to resume assignments for National Geographic. He looks forward to an uncomplicated one-night stand with Cin, who reckons he’s a nice enough guy, perhaps not her type, but he makes her laugh and she’s feeling sexy, so why not?
After a blissful first night, with plenty of sexual action, Josh is reluctant to leave, and the lovemaking goes on well into the next day. The offscreen voices of the characters allow the viewers access to their innermost thoughts, which are often at variance with what they say to each other. There’s Josh’s concern about premature ejaculation (he tries thinking of a recipe for a cake to delay the proceedings) and Cin’s unspoken instructions (“Go left, please!”).
First-time writer-director Jonathan Teplitzky (who hails from commercials and musicvideos) injects scenes in which two sets of Greek choruses, one female, one male, comment on the action, candidly describing their sexual attitudes and preferences.
There are no prizes for guessing that Josh will stay with Cin for the remainder of the three days, which are counted down via title cards. Though the couple at one stage talk about having a meal, they never get round to eating, spending most of the time in bed, except during an unwelcome visit from Sam (Catherine McClements), Cin’s best friend and confidante, who drops in to check out, and openly flirt with, her pal’s conquest.
The only other featured characters are an all-seeing cab driver (Kris McQuade) who serves as the lovers’ guardian angel — a device that could have been cheesy but in fact works rather well — and Josh’s friend Tim (Simon Bossell), who barely registers. Limited in scope and in some ways slight, pic makes up for lack of narrative with clinical, perceptive observations on how strangers turn into lovers.
Most of the film is taken up with sexual matters, and the screenplay is full of home truths about relationships and attitudes toward sex and commitment. As Josh’s departure looms, it’s clear that some difficult decisions will have to be made.
Teplitzky is well served by his actors. Wenham’s sexy, humorous portrayal of the seemingly diffident Josh is immensely appealing, as is Porter’s sunny, freckled, slightly chubby Cin. In her brief role, McClements is waspishly good as the tantalized friend.
Production values are modest but adequate, mostly centering on Cin’s cluttered apartment. Curiously, the version world-preemed on the opening night of the Sydney Film Festival (where it was enthusiastically received) lacked a final music score; though David Hirschfelder (“Shine”) has the music credit on the print, a temporary music score was in place. The Hirschfelder music should be integrated by the time the pic unspools at the Melbourne film fest in July.