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Jessica Stein is a single, straight, successful, journalist, part of a bonded Jewish family living in New York City, who finds herself not as straight as she thought when Jessica meets and begins an intense friendship with career woman Helen Cooper which ultimately leads to romance. Written by
Final Score (cumulative average of various classic cinematic qualities):
9.2 (out of 10)
Ok, your an attractive woman (or man, doesn't matter). You've got a good job, good friends, good family base, and nice place (complete with gorgeous spiral staircase). You're happy. You're contributing to society. But you're single so everybody around you - who themselves are now dating, engaged, married or pregnant- is telling you that you aren't actually happy because you're not just like them. Never mind that 43% of the population is single and 48% have never been in a successful relationship. Couples are fascist and in the movie world being alone is a fate worse than death.
That's where we pick up with Jessica Stein (cute beyond words Jennifer Westfeldt) being constantly hounded by her hyperbolically obsessed mother to hurry up and "find someone" like her brother. The first few minutes of "Kissing Jessica Stein" are pretty routine. It features the feisty grandma and a "all-men-are-losers" montage straight out of a Meg Ryan movie. But you've got to know the mold in order to break it. A few minutes in the movie takes a 180 degree turn at the moment when at a dinner Jessica complains about the lack of decent guys in the city and her boss and former boyfriend Josh shoots back, evicerating her. The monologue is brilliant, but never mind what he says it's a testament to the film, it's intelligence and sheer scope that he was allowed to speak up at all.
As the plot kicks in, Stein becomes intrigued by a personal ad placed by another women, Helen - free spirited bi-sexual seeking her first lesbian experience. The two slowly but surely the two begin to date and form a relationship hampered by Jessica's own neurosis and, well, let's be honest- biological sexuality. Things get complicated from there. To call "Kissing Jessica Stein" a lesbian or same-sex romance is a little to boxed-in for me. While "KJS" could be viewed as many things, it is most accurately one of those "free spirit helps straight-laced person break out of his/her shell" movie. There are many points during the first viewing of this movie where I didn't like it- afraid of where it was ultimately going. Much to my delightful surprise, Stein's lesbian experience isn't ultimately to get her to reject men and find love, but to free her- from her own neurosis and perfectionism. The movie doesn't show women's lesbian tendencies in the casual way of, say, Chasing Amy, but explores the sheer oddity of it as a novelty plot gimmick. One of the best scenes in the film is Helen's gay friend voicing offense to the unfair way she seems to choose her sexuality whenever it's convenient for her. The movie starts out seemingly filled with stereotypes (male, gay, Jewish, ect.) but before the end everyone gets their say and the true characters come out. The ending is set up the entire movie in the many parallels between Helen and Josh. It is perfect.
Did I mention the movie was funny? It is probably the funniest movie -written by and made for women- that I have ever seen. It's subtly funny. One of those movies where you nudge your neighbor to see if they got the joke too. The dialogue is delicious- jam packed with wit, honesty and quotable lines. It's a comedy of ideas. The music is great. If there's one thing in this low budget indie flick that is cinematically brilliant it's the audio visual montages. The subtle way it plays with the background music and on-screen action. In one of the more subtle examples Jessica walks up her spiral staircase- her steps exactly in time with a recurring piano note in the song. Finally, I'm a guy and I never got the whole lesbian-chic thing. Seems like overcompensation from a bunch of homophobic men who don't realize that if all the women get together there won't be anyone for them.
I originally scored "KJS" in the late 8's. But the more it turned over, marinated in my head the better it got. When I went back and re-scored it with the complete picture in my head it shimmied it's way into the 9's (this is equivalent to 4-stars). Hopefully, this isn't the last we've seen of these two talented women. "Kissing Jessica Stein" is a great movie. An endearing and invigorating people story. I hated to take it back to the video store.
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