By Dar Dowling
New York–based writer and visual artist
Last week I fell in love, not with a beautiful woman, as some may suspect, but with a really smart, poignant and often hilarious film -- Sex After Kids, written and directed by Jeremy Lalonde. As love affairs often do, it taught me something -- Canadians make some really killer cinematic art, unafraid to push the envelope when it comes to story line, character development, social issues, and yes -- sexuality.
Lalonde had me right from the start, when Ben brings a "takeout"-style couples therapist home, to his slightly horrified wife Jules because -- you guessed it -- they aren't having sex and he's over it. Yet he gets more than he bargained for including homework -- 100 days of sex. As if it's that easy -- and it's not, until she discovers the spin cycle on the dryer. From that point on I was strapped in for a wildly funny, yet thought and emotion-provoking ride, right along with Lalonde's eclectic, slightly damaged and utterly charming cast of characters. Many of whom could actually be my friends -- well the ones with kids.
Every actor in Sex After Kids perfectly captures their characters' personal brand of sex, and/or love-deprived crazy and relationship angst. Whether its Lost Girl's Kristen Holden-Reid playing an endearing, yet slightly slutty single dad looking to change his ways after a tryst gone bad and maybe just maybe find love, or a pair of empty-nesters, beautifully brought to life by Jay Brazeau and Mimi Kuzyk, looking to get their sex lives back on track. And in doing so opening up a Pandora's box full of lube, butt plugs, vibrators, anal sex and porn. While also unleashing all the shades of relationship gray that are inexplicably tangled up in the mix when dealing with sex issues -- frustration, confusion, awkwardness, anger, tenderness, tear-inducing panic and yes, love.
As a father of two, dealing with relationship gray is something Lalonde knows a lot about, which begs the questions -- which character is the most like him? Well the answer is: all of them. "The worst parts of all the characters are me, and the best ones are my wife," he says. Yet in the end he admits identifying the most with Larissa and Jody, lesbian moms with very different parenting styles trying to find common ground. "Although we communicate much better," he says. That's really good news because those girls have issues.
During filming, which was a whirlwind affair, shot in just 15 days, spread over three months, on nights and weekends in locations throughout Toronto, Lalonde was very open to suggestions by the cast, many of whom have kids. "My style is collaboration... and my rule is the best idea wins," he says. It paid off for him, resulting in changes, which ultimately made for a more realistic, and dare I say funnier film.
He said "yes" to Amanda Brugel's suggestion that her character Vanessa, a former model, with many relationship issues, have one more -- sweat that smells like rancid cat urine due to her post pregnancy hormones running amok. Yes it's a real condition, and it's one Brugel, who delivers an amazing performance, actually had to deal with for a little while when her son was born. This addition set the stage for an extraordinary and oh-so-amusing sex scene. Saying "yes" to Jay Brazeau, who plays Horton, meant that while going down on his wife's newly waxed landing strip, Horton's contact lens goes missing, he goes after it, and well you really need to see for yourself how that works out.
Lalonde was a playwright and editor, before taking on directing, both of which give him a unique perspective from which to view filmmaking. Allowing him to deliver a film that is as rich in dialogue and emotion, as it is in visuals. So while there is lots of fun and games in this film, you not only see, but feel, the angst that is very much a part of the process for all of the characters. An angst that is a direct result of their love for each other, and a desire for connection, that at times is confusing, frustrating and heartbreaking - and yeah lots of fun.
Lost Girl fans will be happy to know that Zoie Palmer's performance as Lou, a complicated, somewhat damaged single mom, who is paralyzed by self doubts, was stunning. Weaving an irresistible spell that ultimately drew me into Lou's world until I began to "really" care about her in a way that was unexpected and refreshing. Over time becoming one of my favorite characters, as she shanghais her rather perverse yet strangely likable brother Peyton, whose "pissed away" his inheritance on too much of every thing -- drugs, booze, and yeah sex -- to help with the baby. A questionable choice that turns out to be a good one. He's also Lou's mentor in her quest for sex, which is oh so very wrong, and fun.
Yet her quest turns into much more as Lalonde and Palmer slowly unravel the emotional layers that make up Lou, bringing her childhood damage and vulnerability to the surface, so we get to really know her. While Palmer clearly delivers in this role, this is in no way an isolated event -- it happens time and time again in this film. As each character navigates the ways their lives, and who they are, are forever changed by having children -- sometimes with laughter and others with tears. In the end often revealing that they are more than what you thought at the beginning, and in a few cases a lot less. This is why Sex After Kids is so much more than the standard comedy, and a film you really do need to see.
No doubt Sex After Kids will be a major player on the U.S. film festival circuit this year, so if you get a chance, check it out -- you won't be sorry.
Follow Dar Dowling on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GaelicSteel