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Better Than Sex is a compulsive movie title, and the film is living up to its promise, which, as ANDREW L. URBAN discovered, was quickly recognised by backers.

You won't find the words 'quirky Australian romantic comedy' on any of the promotional material for Better Than Sex - indeed, writer/director Jonathan Teplitzky won't let the sales and marketing people even call it a romantic comedy. "I didn't want it to be a standard romantic comedy," he explains, "and wanted to avoid the sentimentality which undoes so many of those. It's amusing and honest but it's not full of gags."

"I really laughed out loud when I read it" Susie Porter

Susie Porter has watched audience reaction from Sydney to Toronto and Colorado, and she has seen people laugh – sometimes at the same things, sometimes at different things. But they laugh. It is, therefore, a comedy, "but it deals with universal themes," she says. It’s also unpredictable, "with pieces to camera as characters remark on what’s going on. I really laughed out loud when I read it," she says, "which is unusual. I usually see there is a funny bit in the script, but don’t actually laugh."

What is Better Than Sex, then? Producer Bruna Papandrea says "it's a stylised film - with some remarks directed to camera - and a relationship comedy with a touch of cynicism. It's sophisticated, not quirky." And, she adds, the finished film is even better than the script.

"I was hesitant at first," she admits: "two people, one location . . . but Jonathan's fantastic comic style persuaded me. I'm keen to make Australian films in an urban setting and with younger characters, and this fits the bill."

Starring two of Australia's most respected actors, David Wenham and Susie Porter, Better Than Sex is about Josh and Cin's one night stand turning into something more - unintentionally. "The basic premise is partly triggered by my own experiences when I was living in London for three years, apart from my girlfriend." The brief encounters when they were in the same country together were always coming to an end: this is what gave Teplitzky the idea of putting Josh on the eve of an overseas trip, just three days after meeting Cin at a party.

"It's an unconventional script - and I love surprises" David Wenham

Wenham says "Josh is your everyboy, the boy next door…nothing extraordinary about him. The key to it is to keep it simple, like the film. It's about moments between the characters, but unlike most films, this one focuses on those intimate moments we all recognise. It's an unconventional script - and I love surprises."

Wenham says it was "extremely fortunate that we were working with Susie Porter because we got on like a house on fire. It could have been disastrous, spending days and days together with virtually no clothes on . . ."

Teplitzky says the film contains sex scenes - of course - "but we wanted to avoid gratuitous shots, so there are no wide shots of them having sex. I wanted a jigsaw look - a sense of intimacy. The sex scenes are funny, but not in a broad way, more in the recognition of lived experience."

Papandrea, who has been Melbourne based distributor NewVision's Sydney film acquisitions representative for some time, was introduced to the script by fellow producer Robert Connolly (The Boys) who didn't have time to read any more scripts. "Robert sent Jonathan to me, and I read it and loved it. It was the perfect size project for me and perfect timing."

NewVision's Frank Cox introduced Papandrea to a number of international contacts at the Cannes 1999 Film Festival, but it wasn't until flying back to Australia (24 hours in a plane) that he himself read the script of Better Than Sex. "Frank just loved it and committed NewVision to the project, which then started the ball rolling," says Papandrea, "and the NSW Film & Television Office really championed it with the largest investment they were able to commit."

It was also Cox's connections that secured the commitment of President Films and France Television Distribution.

"It's about the oldest, best practiced subject - sex" Frank Cox

"It's about the oldest, best practiced subject - sex," says Cox, "that's what interested me, together with the clever writing." Cox eventually made a five minute pitch to France Television Distribution who "loved it…it was timely for them because they wanted to get into English language films, plus Jacques (Erie Strauss, President Films, part of the FTD group) and I have done lots of business together."

With a nomination for a Best Film in the AFI Awards, the backers seem to have been vindicated.

Published 9/11/2000

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