Just when you have resigned yourself to the apparent fact that there is nothing new under the romantic comedy sun, along comes director Peter Templeton with a completely off-the-wall take on young love.
And it all centres on testicular cancer. Yes, you read that right. Testicular cancer. If ever there was a wildly original hook for a romantic comedy, it’s that one.
In this engaging and funny Australian production, based on a script by Michael Lucas, and set in the Inner West of Sydney, Jonah (Ryan Kwanten), who has a led an untroubled existence up to that point centred around partying and casual sex, suddenly finds himself contemplating his mortality.
Or more precisely the mortality of his ability to sire offspring. It is established in fairly smart order that it’s a very survivable cancer and that all Jonah needs to do is having one of his testicles removed and all will be well. The downside to this reasonably upbeat prognosis? He will rendered infertile, thus ending any hope he may have had of being a father.
To his great surprise, it suddenly matters greatly that he become a father by any means possible. His once insatiable appetite for living the high life, and partying till lunchtime pales next this overriding desire to make a teeny-tiny reproduction of himself within the limited time frame of 3 or so weeks left to him.
As his house mates, and fellow party promoters, Gus (Ryan Corr) – who wonders aloud if you’re allowed to “keep the ball” – and Stevie (Sarah Snook) look on with concern, he sets about tracking down every last woman with whom he’s had a meaningful or not so meaningful relationship in the hope that one of them has a biological clock ticking at the same deafening rate as his now out of control need to reproduce.
While Gus remains resolutely opposed to aiding and abetting what turns out to be a sensitively handled quest to find a mother for his hoped-for child – the endless meet ups with an never ending parade of women could have so easily descended into high farce, milked for every last laugh; instead there is poignancy as well as humour in his desperate quest – Stevie, as his best friend is inevitably drawn into this mad pursuit for genetic immortality.
She sets him up with a lesbian couple she knows, and a single forty something woman, with whom he makes an unexpected connection, but it all comes to naught and Jonah is left staring into the abyss, his need to be a father by natural means looking like it won’t be fulfilled before his operation.
Naturally enough this is where Stevie comes in. While all the attention has been focused on Jonah’s ex-girlfriend Zoe, who when she finally finds out the news, is ready and fulfilling to commit to parenting with “little boy lost” Jonah – in the middle of one of the housemates’ massively intense, crowded parties no less – it is Stevie who steps in, surprising herself with her willingness to help Jonah fulfil his dream.
What makes this movie so engaging is that Jonah and Stevie, thanks in no small part to impressive acting by Ryan Kwanten and Sarah Snook, manage to take an over-the-top situation – would anyone actually go to these lengths … really? – and render it a wholly believable, and touching scenario.
Jonah believably transforms from a “root rat” who, while the life of the party, and everyone’s “best friend”, can’t be relied upon for much of anything (certainly not fatherhood) into a young man who realises that it is time to step up and make serious changes to the way he lives his life.
Stevie’s transformation from concerned best friend into first an aider and abetter of this quixotic quest, and then possible active participant in its fulfilment, is equally well handled. Every decision made by her makes sense in the light of the relationship she has with Jonah.
Where another script writer might have simply applied a few broad brushstrokes of slap-stick and a totally unheralded change-of-heart by Stevie at the ninth hour, Michael Lucas resists that temptation and grounds Stevie as a real person making understandable decisions in the face of a wholly unreal situation.
And that’s where this movie shines. You leave the cinema with the sense that you have witnessed real, fallible people grappling with a monumental situation and responding to it in the best way they can. It avoids the pitfalls of many romantic comedies which is to string together a series of unbelievable coincidences, and characters whose lives are too perfect to be believable, and pray you buy into the romantic conceit.
Of course those of us who love romantic comedies – the good ones anyway – love them regardless of these obvious plot contrivances, but you’re always left feeling vaguely unsatisfied, with the sense that romantic though it is, that it couldn’t possibly happen that way in real life. And granted, often that’s not the intent in truly escapist, and beautifully crafted romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally. Even so you wonder what it would be like to be totally lost in a hopelessly romantic world that felt like it had a chance of coming to pass.
Here is that movie. Or as close as we’re likely to get. The characters are real, the suburbs look and feel much as they do in real life (as a resident of the area I can attest to that), and the witty clever lines of dialogue sound like something you might hear especially quick-witted friends, who have known each other for years say to each other.
Not Suitable for Children of course ends much where you’d like to, but the beauty of it is that the ending you get is not necessarily a given until fairly late in the movie, which is a remarkable feat of rom-com writing, given most of its ilk flag their intentions somewhere around the opening credits.
So if you’re looking for romance with believable characters, smart dialogue, a narrative that moves along swiftly without feeling contrived, and a sense that this could happen to you (the romance I mean; not so much the testicular cancer), then this movie is the perfect way to be reminded that not all romantic comedies are not created equal, and some are definitely more equal than others.