Josh Lawson’s The Little Death generated a tonne of media coverage and mostly favourable reviews after selling to the US and multiple other territories- so why haven’t Australian audiences been more aroused by the sexy comedy?

That question is being debated after the saga of the secret sex lives of five Sydney couples rang up $77,700 at 34 screens last weekend and $83,500 with previews.

The omens had seemed far more positive after the world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, where it came second in the voting for audience award for best feature, and the responses from audiences and buyers at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Writer-director Lawson and distributor eOne worked tirelessly to promote the comedy whose ensemble cast includes Bojana Novakovic, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Lisa McCune, Patrick Brammall, Lachy Hulme and Lawson.

“Obviously we're all disappointed with the opening weekend results but we think it will grow,” Jamie Hilton, who produced the film with Matt Reeder and Michael Petroni, told IF. ”Unfortunately the film won't be that immediate theatrical ‘hit’ we were all hoping for, given how strongly we sold internationally and how audiences seem to love the film.

"We are hoping film industry people and the punters will find the film as it continues in cinemas over the next few weeks." 

Harsh reviews in The Sun-Herald, The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian almost certainly deterred some cinemagoers.  Hilton said, “Our Twitter and Facebook feeds are brimming with praise. We were really shocked with a few key publications reviewing the film negatively. I think that really hurt our chances. I wonder if they saw the same film as David Stratton or the Hollywood Reporter.”

An informal industry poll conducted by IF pointed to several other potential negatives including the arty poster (a crude finger gesture); a fantasy rape sequence which some reviewers found uncomfortable; a minimal marketing spend; and the title: If you knew it was French for orgasm is that a come-on? For all those who didn’t know the meaning, what did it signify?

“I don't think the sex fetish angle hurt us as much as a select few reviews," Hilton said. “Some seemed to be personally directed at Josh which was a little hurtful. He's come home to direct this film and has done an excellent job, he deserves nothing but praise. I suspect he'll have a difficult time justifying coming home to work again anytime soon. And that's a shame… He's a rare comedic talent in this country.”

In a wider sense there is the issue of the tarnished Australian film ‘brand’ after a year when most films have under-performed at the local B.O. “The Australian label is a kiss-of -death,” one exhibitor who played The Little Death told IF.

Allied to that is the challenging environment for independent films versus the Hollywood distributors’ marketing machines, and the 120-day theatrical window when the vast majority of films would benefit from being released far more quickly on VOD and DVD without the slightest impact on ticket sales.

“There is no doubt that we have a brand issue here, and what we've seen is a few key critics dig the boot in and causing a great deal of harm in an environment where our product needs nurturing,” Hilton said, “especially when we have a film that could break out and resonate with audiences. If we were reviewed 4 or 5 stars across the board and people still didn't come, we could have pointed to a brand issue, unfortunately that's not the case here.

“This film is for audiences, it's not an ‘important’ story with serious message, it’s a comedy. And it's the only thing a comedy needs to be, hilarious. What's most disappointing about the soft opening is that the film works. We've seen it work for 90 minutes, every time we play to a full theatre. That's what is upsetting, it's that we had the potential to break out and didn't. All that said, $83,000 on opening weekend for a small budget film with no marquee cast is not as much of a fail as we're all trained to expect. What we have here is a small Australian film with an edge, with a point of difference.

“It's a great film and all the more rewarding for the people that found it in the cinema. They will talk about it and remember it. And I'm sure eOne will do a great job maximizing its home ent/ VOD life. People will find the film eventually; word of mouth just takes a while. Often longer than cinemas are prepare to wait.”

The Australian figures and the negativity of some Australian critics are in stark contrast with the enthusiasm of the distributors who bought the film after the Toronto premiere including Magnolia Pictures (US), Wild Bunch (Spain), Weltkino (Germany and Austria), Kaleidoscope (UK and Ireland) and California Film (Latin America).

Did those distributors view the film from a different perspective?

Hilton concludes, “The good news is that the film is already a success; we will play in theatres in every major territory, including the US, and I'm absolutely certain that Josh will go on to have a big career writing and directing internationally.

“The film will find an audience, it just might not be in Australian theatres. We'll see what the numbers say next week as the word of mouth continues. The film has already achieved well beyond my expectations before we financed it. “


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  1. Simple: sure the “australian film brand” is on the nose; but in this case, its a mainstream film that doesnt speak to the 50+, female skewed “art house” audience we have here. And in the main, it was only playing in the arthouses. Wonder if Event and Hoyts turned the film down?
    Shame – it’s really clever and funny.

  2. Perhaps these Australian film-makers might think twice before slagging off other Australian film-makers for making film that bomb at the box office?

  3. Just had a look at the Facebook page. Yeah, the title and poster don’t match. If it’s meant to be raunchy, then just do a raunchy poster, not a how to sign language.

  4. Oh really?

    I saw it on Sun…
    Basically another Aussie film that thought it new its audience and the ‘what australians want’ on the screens mentality and obviously they knew what they didnt want….

    They didn’t want some middle class, white people and their silly sexual antics of their private sex issues to watch.

    Your films should die and early death mr Lawson, your mouth was bigger than your appetite and ego.


  5. Why oh we adhere to Hollywood studio release windows??
    Why wasn’t Little Deaths which has immediate appeal to an audience that DOES NOT go to the cinema…or in fact live anywhere near any of the 34 screens that released the film, available date and date or near to on VOD…i know I know…so don’t whinge when you cnat deliver the film to the screens ( in lounge rooms) where people will watch…and where you recoup 70%..not nothing!!!

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