Who's Your Daddy?

5 June 2012 | 11:09 am | Anthony Carew

“It's such a thrill,” says Peter Templeman, the director of Not Suitable For Children, of the fact that his picture is set to kick off the 59th Sydney Film Festival. “It's such an iconic festival, a national event; it's a real honour to be the opening night film.”

Not Suitable For Children skews towards the opening-night safety of crowd-pleaserdom, especially given the film can be surmised by its sitcom hook: 20-something party bro Jonah – played by True Blood pin-up Ryan Kwanten (and, yes, like, of course there's an arse shot herein) – is diagnosed with testicular cancer and is given a three-week window in which he can impregnate someone – hell, anyone – before he's rendered permanently infertile.

But, if this sounds like the kind of comic premise that courts zany results, before finally, inevitably, giving way to tedious rom-com cliché, Templeman's debut picture thankfully doesn't deliver the expected; subverting instead the tropes of genre at every turn. It's a genre that the West Australian filmmaker isn't even sure he wants to be associated with.

“I never thought of it as a romantic-comedy, and I don't know how I feel about it being marketed as that. I always thought that, if I had to label it, I saw it more as a coming-of-age comedy, with a love story in it. When I think of romantic comedies, I think of that static structure, that predictable story that unfolds as soon as these two main characters meet each other. I'm not a fan of the genre, at all.

“But, then,” Templeman continues, “it occurred to me that two films that are probably in my 'top ten' of all time, Groundhog Day and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, are comedies that are real love stories at heart. If there's some sort of realm of the 'high concept' rom-com that includes those, I'm happy to be grouped with them.”

Not Suitable For Children marks the feature film debut for Templeman, whose acclaimed short film and television work has netted nominations for both a BAFTA (for an episode of kids show, oh good lord it's a kids show, Lockie Leonard) and an Oscar (in 2007, for his short film, The Saviour). It was written by Templeman in collaboration with Melburnian/Offspring screenwriter Michael Lucas and dates back to the pair's long-ago film school days.

“Back when Michael Lucas and I were in film school, he got a tiny little lump on his very own testicle and freaked out for about 48 hours, thinking it was malignant. And he really thought, at that time, 'God, I want to have a kid!' He was fine in the end, it was just a benign cyst. But, thank God for that benign cyst, because at the time he was going through all this he thought, 'There's gotta be a film in this!' This idea of a guy with his body-clock ticking, that felt fresh to us; it wasn't something that we've seen, at all, in cinema, and that was a real incentive for us to make it.”

The pair spent five years collaborating on Not Suitable For Children, working on this tale of “a guy with testicular cancer hunting for a womb”. During that time, Templeman became a father, twice over, himself, gaining a level of insight into the paternity, and paternal yearnings, underpinning his story. “It's pretty funny that I've had two kids since we became involved in this project. And the second one was not planned! His timing was terrible; he arrived just as we were entering pre-production with the film.”

The film is, however, not about ill-fitting fatherhood in functional reality – not some Knocked Up set in Sydney – but about the idea of wanting children; how it has both cultural and biological cues, and how there can be a primal/emotional/physiological yearning in men for child-rearing, not just for impregnating. “I'm not sure if it really is truly primal, for men, on the same level as feelings of survival, and hunger, and even sex,” Templeman admits. “But there's no doubt that for some men they identify really strongly with wanting to be a husband and a father, and we felt that that's something you don't often see in films, which want to depict men as reluctant fathers.”

It's, for Templeman, less a film about his days as father, now, and far more a shrine to his share-house years, the picture picking an authentic rundown terrace in Eveleigh to house its three housemates: Kwanten, Ryan Corr (of Packed To The Rafters infamy) and Sarah Snook (of Spirited). “For me, it's mostly about the years that I spent in my twenties, house-sharing with my mates,” Templeman explains. “It's, in many ways, really about that kind of male bonding. I'd be worried that, if because it's kind of being marketed as a rom-com, that men didn't want to go and see it; that it was a film only seen by women. It's, really, a film about male issues.”

Not Suitable For Children happily hosts those staples of share-house living – weekly parties – and, thankfully, presents them in authentic-feeling fashion, the noise, darkness and chaos of those sequences the opposite of every staged party that litters shitty rom-coms. “I wanted to capture that real primal pulse. How [parties]'re the real essence of those years in your twenties, that freedom and that recklessness and that feeling of being invincible. I remember feeling invincible at that age – physically, never psychologically – and you really smash yourself around, and we did. And that's what happens in the film: there's this young guy who feels invincible, and then life throws something curly at him and he realises how vulnerable he really is, and how precarious life is at any time.”