Not Suitable for Children
Details: In Cinemas 12 July 2012, Australia, English
Synopsis: A young playboy (Ryan Kwanten) learns he has one month until he becomes infertile and sets out to procreate as much as possible.
Local romantic comedy avoids predictable pitfalls.
The term ‘rom-com’ has become something of an embarrassment in Australian film industry circles.
If you doubt that, try to find some mention of it anywhere in the publicity for this likeable entry in this long-running sub-genre, starring Ryan Kwanten as an about-to-be sterilised young guy desperately searching for a mother for his baby before his genitalia go under the surgeon’s knife. The same reluctance to call an implement for digging up earth a spade went for the film’s program notes at the 2012 Sydney Film Festival, where it seemed to meet the general approval of the often critical opening night crowd.
But despite a plot one-liner that puts thoughts of spermatozoa and fatherhood before love and romance, Not Suitable for Children (a perfect title for this storyline) is indeed a romantic comedy. It just happens to be one told from a male point of view, which makes it part of a proud minority tendency including Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally (which, despite a female writer in Nora Ephron, identified much more closely with Harry than his female friend).
While director Peter Templeman and writer Michael Lucas’ feature debut doesn’t reach those exalted heights (and it would be unfair to expect it to), it does gives a nicely original spin to the notions of male-female friendship explored in the Reiner-Ephron flick.
Kwanten’s Jonah is a hedonistic youngster dedicated to a life of rowdy partying with his two housemates, Stevie (Saran Snook) and Gus (Ryan Corr). After a visit to the doctor produces a shock finding of testicular cancer, to be treated in a few weeks by an operation that will see him sterilised, the young hoon is pulled up short and stares a mature adult dilemma in the face.
Horrified by what this probably means for his chances of ever conceiving a child, he looks at the possibility of cryogenically freezing his sperm, an option that disappears when the medical tests come back negative. From here, he has only a window of a few weeks to find a birth mother.
Potential candidates include his recent ex (Bojana Novakovic, currently as ubiquitous in Australian films as Kwanten) but his attempts don’t go well. The same goes for discussions with a physically-dissimilar lesbian couple (Lulu McClatchy and Alice Parkinson) suggested by flatmate Stevie. The interview scene, where Jonah alternates between being tongue-tied and putting his foot in it, gives the film some of its funniest moments.
As choices narrow down, Stevie’s insistence that she has no interest in motherhood comes under pressure and …well, you can probably figure loosely where the film will go. That’s not to say it’s predictable, though – for the film manages that difficult trick of making us want the film to go in a certain direction while appearing to drag its heels, so that we can’t quite see how this will actually happen.
While Kwanten is one key to the film’s success – his Jonah is rather sweet without being sappy – the other is undoubtedly Snook. Legend has it that Snook was shortlisted to play the lead female role in David Fincher’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo remake, and whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly believable after seeing her in action here.
Snook is one of those actresses that, like Isabelle Huppert, can look plain one minute, a striking beauty the next. This works for her to great dramatic advantage as she morphs from Jonah’s tomboy-ish best mate into a creature with sexual and romantic longings. It’s a spectacularly good performance that almost guarantees this film, whatever its immediate fate at the box office, will one day be remembered as the modest affair that gave a major actor her first on-screen break.
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