Cin (Susie Porter, Two Hands) and Josh (David Wenham, soon to be seen in Lord of the Rings) meet in a Sydney bar and end up spending the night together. He thinks she’s cute and she knows he’s leaving for his new London home in three days, so when it comes to their night of commitment-free passion, they both know where they stand.
As a temporary couple, Josh and Cin find they meld together perfectly. They are both happy and confident people, both have a sense of humor about their situation—and the sex is phenomenal. But when it comes time for Josh to leave, the situation becomes a little sticky. Josh, knowing he has limited time left in Sydney, decides to spend more of his remaining time with the very willing Cin. Slowly but surely, one night becomes two and two becomes three. Before they know it, Cin and Josh discover there might be more to their fling than they first anticipated. But huge changes must be made in order for them to remain together.
Better Than Sex
Susie Porter, David Wenham, Catherine McClements, Simon Bossell
(NSW Film and Television Office)
Meercat and New Vision Films, 2000
As far as one-night stand movies go, this premise is not an entirely new one (Rob Lowe and Demi Moore did it ages ago in About Last Night…). What’s remarkable about Better Than Sex is the genuine treatment given to the characters of Josh and Cin and the unpretentious manner in which their relationship is handled both in and out of the bedroom. Unlike many Hollywood love stories, our leading man Josh is not a romantic hero able to sweep any woman off her feet and Cin is not simply a pretty woman waiting to be rescued. The two are regular people in a film that doesn’t revolve around perfect skin and pert breasts. This isn’t to say they’re not attractive; it just takes a little while for them to locate the beauty within each other.
Once the two connect, they are able to confront the difficulties inherent in such a tricky circumstance as that of the one-night stand. Those difficulties include jealousies, apprehensions, and confusions interspersed among their shared passion. Josh and Cin’s relationship in Better Than Sex is like a lifetime condensed into 85 minutes. With only three other characters in the film, Cin and Josh are on screen all the time—revealing their inner thoughts to the audience via clever narration. Josh and Cin often talk directly to the camera from what looks to be a stage on which they are being interviewed. These static scenes are intercut with cinematic action, though they sometimes function to bridge the action itself through voiceovers revealing what Josh and Cin are really thinking during their time together.
These voiceovers take place with particular effect during sex. Cin moans as Josh is hammering away at her, while her voiceover asks, “Why won’t he turn me over?” or “Go left, left.” Similarly, Josh tries to hold back his orgasms by thinking of recipe items, “a dozen eggs, a desiccated coconut.” The film’s frank depiction of Cin and Josh’s sex life only adds to the realism of the characters. They’re often sweaty and clumsy, sometimes nervous, sometimes animalistic. And instead of having to imagine how great the sex is (of which there is a lot), or see it performed against a backdrop of dim candlelight, viewers see it with the lights on and the noises loud, though it never becomes smutty.
Josh and Cin’s voiceovers become more poignant as their relationship develops. They become more open with each other and themselves, more honest in what they want emotionally and sexually. Soon, they find that separating is not so easy as their commitment intensifies. This intensification becomes apparent after a brief visit from Cin’s friend, Sam (Catherine McClements). Sam is a bit of a sexual predator, testing their relationship, and Cin becomes jealous of Sam hitting on Josh. “She doesn’t want to fuck him,” Cin tells us. “She just wants him to want to fuck her.” She also finds a photograph of a woman in Josh’s wallet, which amplifies her jealous thoughts and her reservations. She bombards Josh with a series of who-is-shes and can-you-not-leave-your-clothes-on-the-floors, leaving him frustrated and confused at the sudden surge of domesticity. “I thought the idea was you didn’t have to deal with all this crap,” he thinks. Cin, herself, is aware of her reaction to Sam’s intrusion: “I shouldn’t feel [jealous] about someone I’ve only just met,” she thinks.
It’s with this realization that some of the film’s most absorbing incidents occur. The most moving of these being when Josh spies Cin playing the piano, naked. From the bathroom, he sees only her back. Cin’s cherubic figure, entirely freckled, is a gorgeous cross between an hourglass and a bell. At this point, the film suggests, Josh feels especially tender toward her. Their road to commitment is at times funny, and at other times heartbreaking.
After all that happens between them in such a short space of time, Cin’s beauty becomes more evident to Josh, who is beginning to fall in love. Despite this realization, however, he still has a plane to catch. Writer/director Teplitsky has a great eye for detail and often manages to say a lot by saying very little, while his use of narration succeeds in allowing the audience to get to know two strangers intimately as they get to know each other.