Although it took a while for Not Suitable For Children to get off the ground, the delay turned out to be a positive thing, author Michael Lucas and star Sarah Snook tell Ian Barr.
The process of getting a screenplay greenlit (sorry; 'off the ground') can often be an arduous one, filled with compromise and disappointment. And though Not Suitable For Children's script, like many Aussie film project, spent a long time in pre-production gestation, its author Michael Lucas says that those eight years were ultimately beneficial for the film in the end. “I was 25 when I first started writing it, and I'm 33 now,” he begins, before telling of the autobiographical detail that became the script's dramatic lynchpin. “Like the main character, I found a lump, and there was a period of before I found out that lump was benign… in that period of time I just spun out, I just freaked out about the idea of being infertile.”
Lucas serendipitously ended up collaborating with former film-school buddy Peter Templeman, who directs the film. In the script, the victim of the aforementioned testicular cancer is Jonah, played by Ryan Kwanten, whose True Blood-propelled stardom was ultimately what led to the project being financed. The film's plot – and comic mileage – involves Jonah's desperate search for a partner in the scant time prior to his operation, meanwhile flirting with the possibility that his ideal partner has been under his nose the whole time, in the form of his housemate Stevie, played by Sarah Snook. “I don't think I had the chops when I was 25 to have written some of the relationship scenes that happen later [in the film],” says Lucas of the script's early stages, and how its long gestation period became a virtue for the film. “We kept evolving it over the years – having said that, the second half of it was developed much more recently. I can almost see myself growing up.”
The film makes striking utilisation of Sydney's Inner West, and particularly Newtown, though Lucas had never specifically tailored it to any specific city. “I always imagined it would be set in one of those places that's close to university, but it could've been Melbourne, and at one point we were pursuing a US version of it.” As Kwanten's acerbic romantic interest and co-lead, Sarah Snook was, as Lucas mentions, the recipient of the most screenplay dialogue-adjustments to accommodate her considerable presence and spunk (her resemblance to Emma Stone is uncanny, and seems poised for the same kind of stardom). She agrees about the presence the Inner West has in the film, too. “I've lived in Sydney six years, and I love Newtown and the Inner West area, I'm really into cultural-style architecture and feel like that area has a really good vibe. They managed to find an extraordinary amount of those graffiti walls that were beautiful, and the great thing is they're preserved [in the film] but they're probably painted over with fresh art now.”
But more than anything, it's Lucas' script that she believes has the most pull, in its balanced blend of bawdy humour with the innate gravely serious nature of its subject matter. “It does fill both categories,” Snook says of its juggling of comedy and drama. “Usually the films I go and see are not romantic comedies, but I feel like I've missed out on some really great films because of that. But that genre is actually getting attention to writing now, which is the best part.”
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Not Suitable For Children is in cinemas nationally.