Better Than Sex

(Part 1)

Cast & Credits

Cynthia..............Susie Porter
Josh..................David Wenham
Cab Driver...........Kris McQuade
Writer.................Jonathan Teplitzky
Director...............Jonathan Teplitzky
Producer..............Bruna Papandrea & Frank Cox
Cinematographer....Garry Phillips
A Better Than Production
The film Better Than Sex was released in Australia on November 9, 2000 and became available on video and dvd on July 29, 2003. While in theatres, the film did well as far as box office figures, bringing in approximately $1,088,732 by the last week of showing.
Interviews with Jonathan Teplitzky and producers were extremely hard to come by, as most interviews found with him deal with the director's new movie Gettin' Square. However, Better Than Sex was Teplitzky's first film and it was noted in the movie's review on the American website RottenTomatoes that the filmmaker was striving for something out of the ordinary which, many would agree, he achieved.
When the time came for reviewing the feature, critics went both ways. For example, the movie was seen as either boring and filled with 'fluff' or innovative and stylish. Aussie film critic Steve Baker describes the film as exhibiting the 'best and worst of most Australian films'; and while it is fresh, brings 'sunlight' to the screen, the film lacks serious thought exchange between Cyn and Josh. He tells of how the sex-driven pair do not even venture outside, really, and that the film is 'too indoor', as it takes place in Cynthia's studio apartment throughout the entire 84 minutes.
Many more reviews can be found, although most of these are written by Hollywood critics whose opinions may not be in congruence with the Australian public and their views. Some examples of these critical commentaries from the states are as follows:
"Funny and honest in tracing the way in which lust can trigger emotion even if it's not supposed to be part of the plan." -Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
"It's nice that Cyn and Josh are free of hang-ups and neuroses, but too bad that their healthy, cheerful attitudes make them phenomenally boring". -A.O. Scott, New York Times
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Better Than Sex has a fairly large online presence. Finding reviews, summaries, and some interviews is definitely possible, but there is a lot of overlap: often what one critic says is posted on a number of different websites, in magazines and journals as well. Also, viewers of the film seem to either really appreciate it or dismiss it as utterly boring, so in-depth analysis' with varying opinions or opinions in grey area are few and far between. However, reviews of the feature along with interviews with Susie Porter can be found on websites designed specifically for women, as the film is the essence of sexual liberation for both male and female, not just the former; the double standard of patriarchal society often exhibits only the sexual freedom of males.
Finding the information and statistics of the film proved to be both simple and difficult, as mentioned earlier, interviews with the makers of the film are not at all easy to come by. Yet finding reviews and box office figures was fairly unproblematic; the feature was popular enough and brought in a substantial amount of money, therefore was worth considering for many.
(Part 2)
Better Than Sex directed by Jonathan Teplitzky is the romantic comedy that explores a sudden intimacy between two people and their struggle to remain emotionally unattached to each other.
Josh, played by David Wenham, and Cynthia, played by Susie Porter, meet at a party one night. While they instantly hit it off, it is not until they share a cab ride home that the story begins to take shape.
Through mindless conversation, Cynthia finds out that Josh is only in town until Thursday - three days until he returns home to London. Instantly, her mind reels and cleverly, the audience is able to hear both Cynthia and Josh's thoughts. 'Tempting', she thinks, as he will be going away anyway, never to see her again, why not just ask him to come up to her apartment? And of course, Josh is sorting through the same matter to himself: just sex.
Right when the audience thinks Cynthia will not invite Josh, still a stranger, up to her flat, she does, but with an explicit intention to get her pleasure and tell him to 'piss off' - things must be left uncomplicated.
They wake up and, after more supposed, 'no-strings-attached' sex, it is time for Josh to leave. 'Go if you want, but you don't have to', she says; this is comical because it has become very clear that the intercourse they shared was far from unattached, and neither want to separate.
Predictably, Josh stays another day. Intimacy develops more and more and what started as 'just a fuck' has transformed into a strong connection. They converse while still naked, they dance naked, Cynthia plays the piano naked; there is a comfort level present between the two that depicts a wonderful, alluring sensuality. Both are secure in their own skin, recognise this quality in one another and appreciate it worlds over.
Throughout the day Cyn and Josh succumb to sporadic rounds of sex. Comedy weaves itself through these scenes as the pair's thoughts are heard by the audience: 'Turn me over', she pleads; 'To the left', he begs. And adding to the humour are hers and his friends making comments during the sex; while Cynthia gives oral sex to Josh his friends speak to the camera about spitting or swallowing and while the two have sex her friends confess to viewers what sounds they themselves make while performing. As one woman put it, 'I'm a "yes" kind of girl'.
But the movie is not only about sex, as Cynthia and Josh feel more for each other by the hour. For example, Cynthia becomes jealous when her attention-snatching friend Samantha flirts with Josh. Sam's flirting combined with a picture of an attractive woman found in Josh's wallet leads to an argument between the couple and ends with Josh leaving. And once he's gone, and the lonely, thoughtful piano-jazz starts playing in the background, Cynthia thinks to herself, though for all to hear, 'How can I get upset, though? I mean, it was only supposed to be one night'.
Josh storms out and there is a cab waiting. It is important to note here that the cab driver, played by Kris Mc Quade, has been the same one since the night they met and is seemingly all-knowing. 'I won't take you', she tells Josh, 'You've got to go back. You want to. She wants you to'. And when Josh takes the driver's advice after a good walkabout and think-about, there is no doubt at all that there is nothing casual about what he and Cynthia have shared these past two days.
In the end, Josh leaves for London, or so Cynthia believes, which is why she purchases a ticket for that same city. However, she has no idea that the 'no-show' ticket she was so lucky to get was Josh's, as he is busy turning around to go back to her. But the audience-pleaser ending comes through, for when Cynthia is sadly relating this unfortunate mishap to viewers, Josh strolls onto the screen and pulls up a seat beside her. Wonderfully, happily-ever-after prevails.
The best asset this movie possesses is its complete openness and lack of censorship. All is revealed about sex, intimacy, passion - the film is nudity itself. Josh and Cynthia portray what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman in a contemporary society. Together, this pair depicts the personal need felt by all for both physical and emotional pleasure.
Interestingly enough, what made the film a comedy is what also made it real: the commentaries of Josh and Cynthia's peers, personal, racy thoughts made audible and the impossibility of casual sex.
In short, this film was radically, successfully human and naked.
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In an interview with Susie Porter done by Louise Buckingham, found at www.femail.com.au, the actor energetically tells of how the script really 'grabbed' her when she first read it. Porter relates, 'Being strong-willed, independent and sexually assertive were the traits of Cynthia that stuck with me'. Yet, the actor was also attracted to the 'vulnerable, more gentle side' of the character.
Porter liked Teplitzky's idea for many reasons, but the fact that millions of women would be able to identify with Cyn made the plot even more enticing. Susie talked about how when she was growing up, there was an idea circulating silently that women 'dutifully had sex with their husbands' but never enjoyed it, and playing this character was a chance for all to see the breaking of that ultra-conservative stereotype. In fact, when moviegoers would encounter Cynthia and say, 'Oh she's quite a full on character, isn't she?' Porter would always reply with, 'No, she's just a woman'. For Susie, this film was a chance to do something different and opposite to the patriarchy that is forever woven into the fabric of society.
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Better Than Sex racked in reviews that proclaimed it genius or boring - nothing referred to the movie as 'too racy' or 'over-the-top' sexual; this lack of conservatism shows Australia as becoming progressively liberal, accepting sex as something natural as opposed to something that should be kept taboo. And while this film is not the first of its kind - that is, a spicy, sensual romantic-comedy - it undoubtedly opens new doors to prospective writers and directors. If more and more film artists (i.e. writers, directors, producers) go down the path less travelled, then more and more subjects left in the conservative darkness of tradition will surface, come into the light. Surely, Better Than Sex is a stepping stone, and many hold that concept to be of tremendous value.
For the consumer, the more choice of movie on the market the better, as competition between film creators will inevitably become tighter with the frequent and expected surfacing of 'different' features. Eventually, all films will hold back nothing as long as moviegoers continue to stray from traditional censorship and dive headlong into this neo sexual revolution. And, as assumed, writers and directors must follow audiences. Indeed Better Than Sex places emphasis on the 'now' and urges filmmakers to catch up to the times and an ever-changing market.
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The film at hand has been classified over and over again as a romantic-comedy; literally, this holds true. There is romance and various elements in the movie are comical. However, many other features are put into this genre as well and yet none are quite like Teplitzky's. Certainly Better Than Sex evokes feelings that other romantic comedies do not. But genres are not to be thought of as super-strict, they are a generality and the individual pieces within them must be examined as unique, each one having values and qualities not found in most other films.

Bibliography
*Abstar, Kellie. Moviegoers and Makers. (2003). NSW: Sydney.
*Newser, Hugh. The Cinema Today. (2002). New York: NY.
www.femail.com.au
www.RottenTomatoes.com/reviews
wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film
*nothing found specific to the movie in these sources, rather for own personal, background information on cinema in general