My Year Without SexGreen lightIn her feature film debut Look Both Ways director Sarah Watt gave cancer to her husband, actor William McInnes, thrusting his character into the centre of a romantic drama speckled with small bursts of aesthetic innovation – a splash of animation here, a zippy editing transition there. In her follow-up feature, My Year Without Sex, Watt moves on to the altogether more charming arena of brain aneurisms, and once more against a backdrop of fickle health and physical uncertainty for her characters the writer/director builds an entertaining and quaintly told story of ‘real’ Aussie people in fair dinkum situations.

Slighter and less spectacular than its predecessor, My Year Without Sex – a well-made and sensitively handled drama – is nonetheless more than enough to solidify Watt’s reputation as an emerging force in local cinema. Her penchant for ailments does however beg the question: which illness and what region of the body will her third film target for dramatic effect? Erectile dysfunction, perhaps? Distended bladder? Dermatitis palaestrae limosae? In case you’re wondering, that’s medical terminology for Mud Wrestler’s Rash.

My Year Without Sex is a title both straight-up and misleading: the story is about a character who abstains for a year but sex (or a lack thereof) is not a significant part of the story. After developing a brain aneurism, Natalie (Sascha Horler) is warned to avoid bursts of energy such as lifting, sneezing and you-know-what. This inevitably puts pressure on her relationship with hubby Ross (Matt Day) and the nuclear family synergy shared with their two young children. On the slow mend, Natalie joins a community choir run by a born again 80s rocker while Ross frets over the future of his job and the kids deal with the death of a goldfish. Like its characters, the film ambles along with a kind of day-to-day sincerity, and while the family goes through tough times the story maintains a soft-edged sweetness that coyly avoids falling even temporarily into doldrums of grief and despair.

My Year Without Sex is well acted. Sascha Horley and Matt Day contribute earthy and unassuming performances, creating an endearing partnership.

After the tumultuous breakthrough that was Look Both Ways, however, there is a sense that Watts is running at half or quarter speed in My Year Without Sex, the film a little too modest and soft-pedalled to register a strong impact. Still, it’s intelligent, endearing and pleasantly handled.

My Year Without Sex’s Australian theatrical release: May 28, 2009.