An Australian comedy launched the 2012 Sydney Film Festival, showcasing the city that hosted it. Uneven laughs do little to dampen the film’s spirit, even if it ends up on familiar ground.
Short film maestro Peter Templeman’s work is no stranger to Australian audiences, including television’s Bogan Pride, which launched Rebel Wilson onto an unsuspecting world, and Lockie Leonard. With his feature directorial debut, Templeman aims to leave his mark on the plethora of modern relationships that are currently filling cinemas. Whether people have Friends With Kids or simply Friends With Benefits, coupling on film is no longer a simple matter of coming together like two taxis on Broadway, to borrow a line from Thelma Ritter. With Not Suitable For Children, Templeman and writer Michael Lucas (TV’s Offspring) explore the pressures of fitting a child into a work/life balance in a very unconventional way.
Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) is quite literally the life of the party, hosting large-scale house parties with his companions Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Sarah Snook). When one of Jonah’s many hookups discovers a lump on his testicles, his worst fears come true as he learns it is testicular cancer. The operation is straightforward, but the news he will be left infertile shocks him into action. With frozen sperm not a viable option, he sets about trying to find ex-girlfriends willing to have a child with him before the deadline of the big snip.
The high-concept of Lucas’ script belies the rather simple romantic comedy that sits underneath it. Lucas had his own health scare, one that reportedly inspired this film, but rather than drawing on any number of his personal motivational factors, Not Suitable For Children is played for awkward laughs. Much of the brief film is concerned with Jonah trying to convince various women to mother a child with him, including an incredibly uncomfortable scene with a lesbian couple. These set-pieces pad out a second act devoid of any true substance, all of which is saved for a last minute coupling, that seems to be revelatory to everybody but the duo in question.
The characters may be underwritten, mostly caricatures of late-20s/early-30s denizens of Sydney’s Newtown and surrounds, but the leads can’t be flawed in their portrayals. Kwanten brings the affable charm he lends to his True Blood persona on a regular basis, with a fair dash of the hapless Griff the Invisible as well. Likewise, Sarah Snook is a delight, playing the doe-eyed companion as foil for Jonah, every bit as formidable as her counterparts in the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. Corr is the weak link, but not through any fault of his own. Instead, his character is nothing more than an amalgam of stoner/party friends from an eclectic mix of movies across the decades.
An interesting parallel is the aforementioned Friends With Kids, in which a pair of friends decide to have a child without the complications of marriage or hangups of a relationship. Yet where that film played to its strengths in character and relationship, Not Suitable For Children is far too concerned with creating its one-note gags to get to the big emotional lump that can easily be felt just below the skin.
Not Suitable For Children opened the Sydney Film Festival in June 2012. It is released in Australian cinemas on 12 July 2012 from Icon.