Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Sarah Snook, Ryan Corr, Bojana Novakovic, Laura Brent, Lewis Fitzgerald, Susan Prior and Zoe Carides.
Writer: Michael Lucas.
Director: Peter Templeman.
Running time: 97 minutes.
SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL Screening - Sat 9 Jun 4.00pm.
A coarse but skilfully told tale of one hedonistic 20-something’s forced appraisal of his mortal legacy, Peter Templeman’s Not Suitable for Children takes the multi-tiered meaning of its title very seriously; this is not the film to choose to resurrect your ‘family-trip-to-the-movies’ tradition. The more open-minded viewer, however, will enjoy a warm, funny, contemporary comedy-drama that will serve the director and, in particular, leading lady Sarah Snook very well as it secures thoroughly-deserving festival exposure and limited release internationally.
Perth-born Templeman and scripter Michael Lucas have taken that most easy-to-dislike modern archetype – the smug, inner-city douche-bag male – and made him the believable focus of a film that trades in crude posturing only to reveal a sweet, romantic essence that is very endearing. Aided immeasurably by a tremendously winning lead performance by Ryan Kwanten, Not Suitable for Children proves that the slick execution of smart, funny scripts is not above the Australian film sector (though, admittedly, it’s been a while between examples).
Kwanten plays Jonah, one-third of a share household in Sydney’s arty, ultra-cool inner-west. With housemates Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Snook), they organise enormous street-parties that have become events of legend. One of the film’s great assets is the convincing vibe that Templeman captures in his staging of the raves; these look and feel like awesome gatherings at which everyone is having a blast. Jonah’s latest sexual conquest notices a lump on his testicle and, in some deft narrative packaging of key moments in Jonah’s changing reality, we learn of his affliction, the treatment and that the young man’s seed cannot survive storage.
Faced with the prospect of a lonely life sans children, Jonah sets out to woo and impregnate whichever of his acquaintances agrees to carry his child. Gus and Stevie think it a bad idea and go all out to derail it, until Stevie begins to warm to the idea. First she introduces Jonah to a lesbian couple looking for a donor, scenes which deliver some of the film’s biggest laughs; then, she surprisingly finds her own inner cluckiness kicking into gear.
The utterly preposterous machinations of the concept are never an issue in the assured hands of the debutant director. He also owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to his casting team, who have unearthed a truly international talent in Sarah Snook. With her strong onscreen presence tempered by an adorability that is infectious and comic smarts well beyond her years and experience, her Hollywood doppelganger Emma Stone better keep looking over her shoulder; Snook will be stealing roles from her within the year. Some frenzied sex scenes with Kwanten are the culmination of an on-screen pairing rich in an all-too-rare chemistry.
Templeman stumbles a little with a mid-section that disrupts the tempo of his film. The writing and staging of individual scenes work but don’t necessarily strengthen nor progress the narrative. Jonah’s rendezvous with a 40-something prospect, played by the always reliable Susan Prior, seemed extraneous; Snook makes Stevie’s third-act clash with the self-centred Jonah mostly work, but it’s the least convincing moment of character development in the film.
But the generally warm feelings one is left with and the loving camerawork of Lachlan Milne, who colourfully captures some rarely-seen parts of Australia’s East coast metropolis in the terrific widescreen ratio, makes Not Suitable for Children a perfectly justifiable choice for the Sydney Film Festival’s opening night honours. Faith and diligence from distributor Icon, who have every reason to believe they have a sleeper hit on their hands, should ensure it hits big with its target audience.