A romcom daring enough to tackle the taboo subject of sexual fetishes, The Little Death takes its name from an outdated French euphemism for an orgasm. Josh Lawson — who wrote, directed and stars in the film — takes the standard “marriage in trouble” idea to its logical conclusion in our post Fifty Shades of Grey world. Borrowing from films like Crash and Love Actually, The Little Death looks at the same problem of discussing secret fetishes in order to teach a roundabout lesson in communication and trust.
Dan (Damon Harriman) likes to act, Maeve (Bojana Novakovic) wants to be assaulted, Phil (Alan Dukes) loves to watch you sleep and Rowena (Kate Box) loves to watch you cry — but how will they ever tell their spouses? As five couples hit a sexual “wall,” they begin to delve into fetishism to revive their marriages. The pinnacle of open communication and broaching the subject of weird or unusual sexual inclinations is an embarrassing, and often dangerous, proposition. Lawson takes what is arguably the best part (and most likable) of his own interconnected narrative while leaving the four other segments to their own device (and to varying degrees of success). A refusal to pander to the “happily ever after” crowd and genuinely hilarious moments help maintain a level of attention that would have otherwise waned far before before the 60-minute mark.
Although The Little Death breaks some new ground in the genre, the innovations are too few and far between to be truly effective in differentiating it among other risqué, romantic comedies. While making rape jokes can be construed as “edgy” in today’s pop culture environment, the refusal to step outside of the white, straight relationship is a hinderance to the film’s originality. Ignoring entire facets of the population, Lawson consciously chooses sleep and tear-based fetishes over “gay stuff” for fear of scaring away the milquetoast target audience.
While the doldrums surrounding the juicy comedic moments are hardly more than standard filler fluff, the players are all surprisingly adept at approaching their often one-dimensional characters. Quietly silly husbands and stone-faced scheming wives (or just plain angry) are differentiated only by the skill of the actors. Watching Damon Herriman slip in and out of roles — two deep when his character Dan is considered — is fascinating viewing. One really gets a sense of both his method and ample skill while watching him play a wannabe-actor. A simple sweetness exists between Lawson and his cinematic partner Novakovick as the most communicative couple; they are the easiest to watch without the painful, vicarious embarrassment felt through many of the other segments. Erin James and T.J. Power end up stealing the show in a final act that could stand alone as a brilliant comedy short.
Billed as a comedy about sex, Josh Lawson’s The Little Death only manages to explore a small margin of the current sexual landscape. Lawson’s propensity towards potentially disquieting subject material is once again whitewashed by an overwhelming concern of actually offending anyone. Certainly better than most of what the genre has thrown out in recent years, The Little Death is little more than a safe way for straight couples to start a discussion about their hidden desires.
Jordan Brooks (@viewtoaqueue) is an increasingly-snobby cinefile based out of sunny San Diego, California. As a contributor to several online publications, including his own blog, he has succeeded in fulfilling his life long dream of imposing strong opinions on others.