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There are so few lesbian genre films "OUT" there. And for those lesbian
genre films that
do exist most have characters that are either disturbed psychopaths (my
Heavenly Creatures) or cardboard cutout prototypes that have no place in
result, unfortunately most lesbians are starved for good lesbian genre
films. The best
lesbian roles have usually been played out in supporting role characters
within the main
stream. To appease the appetite, `gaydar' commands an ever watchful eye
However, thank heavens for the charming wit and refreshingly real characters in "Kissing Jessica Stein". "Kissing Jessica Stein" goes beyond the stereotypical to explore individual characters for who they are and what they are going through in their lives. The film is a positive reinforcement on the value of relationships to an individual's personal growth and spiritual evolution.
"Kissing Jessica Stein" is a highly intelligent romantic comedy that goes deep to explore emotional relationships: Not only between Jessica and Helen but also between Jessica and her Mother, Jessica and Josh, other co-workers and all of their friends. The film highlights the importance of discovering yourself and of letting those that love and care about you know who and what makes you happy. Ultimately anyone that truly loves you wants you to be happy. Jessica and Helen's continued deep friendship after their breakup is testament to this. Jessica's painting, Josh's true love for writing and Helen's continued enjoyment of a lesbian sexual relationship is also testament.
All is true to the spiritual core of the writers intent. There is no definitive end to ongoing life. The writers cleverly leave us to "marinate" within our own imaginations.
The mantra of the successful and single career woman in New York City, and
undoubtedly elsewhere, seems to have evolved to "All the good men are
married or gay." But still, through singles ads and avocation-based
places and just hope they persevere. Few decide that answering an ad in
Village Voice placed by a lesbian or bisexual woman is an antidote to the
That's just what copy editor and hopeful painter "Jessica" (Jennifer Westfeldt) does in "Kissing Jessica Stein" leading to an awkward first encounter, then a close friendship and ultimately an intimate relationship with a stunning, smart and funny art gallery manager, "Helen" (Heather Jurgenson). The film tracks their relationships with each other and with the people in their lives - family, friends, co-workers.
The story could easily have sunk to the level of a zany, fluffy, sex comedy or, perhaps, strived to be a "message" drama. It does neither. What makes it wonderful is that all the characters have whole lives which they live in confusion and compassion, pathos and passion. Superficially, they are familiar Manhattan, affluent stereotypes. In reality, they have all the longings and frailties - and strengths - of people everywhere. The character development is real and affecting without being cloy, cynicism is at a minimum. Helen and Jessica haven't stepped out of a Woody Allen take on Manhattan life.
Is Jessica really coming out for life as a lesbian or is she trolling in unfamiliar waters out of desperation for a friendship that includes intimacy? Has Helen given up myriad lovers of both sexes to settle into a domesticated gay relationship? Are the answers there? Should they be?
If a Lifetime Achievement Oscar for portraying the Jewish mother-in-law is ever awarded Tovah Feldshuh will get it. In this film she hovers dangerously close to a familiar caricature while projecting a warmth and wisdom deeper than the conventional portrait of the hectoring, always worried Jewish mom. The opening scene at a Day of Atonement synagogue service is priceless.
"Kissing Jessica Stein" is an Indie production based on the two leading actresses' collaboration in writing "Lipstick," their 1997 play. These are two very smart and insightful women: I hope more comes from their fertile and caring understanding of human, not just female but human, needs.
This film is very New York with scenes from a number of neighborhoods. I have mixed feelings about the post-11 September premiere decision to delete shots of the World Trade Center and replace them with the midtown skyline. A reviewer noted that audiences at the premiere were distracted by the WTC-dominated panoramas.
In a largely full theater with a number of clearly lesbian couples along with many more single people and (probably) heterosexual couples it was really nice to be part of an audience that burst into frequent laughter not based on sexual orientation but rather together as people enjoying a really clever, funny-and-serious, good film.
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.
Kissing Jessica Stein is supremely wonderful. It is the best romantic
comedy I have ever seen. The movie made me laugh, it made me cry, it was
everything you could ever want in a movie. I would recommend it to anyone.
The characters are hilarious, but three dimensional and the sense of humor
that the movie carries is phenomenal.
The scenes in New York and beautifully shot, also and the Jewish family is very much like my own. Though some characters might be called stereotypical, I would have to thoroughly disagree and say that I thought every character had their our twists and turns. Lastly, I thought the chemistry between Helen and Jessica was so perfect for the movie. At first Jessica was uncomfortable, but by the end of their relationship Jessica was dependent on Helen.
Beautiful, beautiful movie!!
I don't know how any one could reduce the characters in this film to,
'shallow' or 'board'. This was a rare film in the romantic comedy genre
which didn't follow the tired old formulas. Yet it still has a classic
feel to it (great music and a beautiful aesthetic). It is a story about
the validity of sexual experimentation. Some people may feel like we
are born one way or the other and if we are unsure, or perhaps want to
experiment then we are 'stupid' or 'frivoulous' those assumptions are
what this movie is trying to combat. It isn't about being gay or
straight, it's about opening up yourself to possibilities whether they
are fruitful in the end or not, the experience alone can make you a
better, more compassionate person, who knows what it is to be honestly
seeking happiness in whatever form it may come. Bravo to the two
writers and actresses in this film, it is one of the rare film's that I
have enjoyed from start to finish and one that I can watch over and
over and continually take joy in.
I believe no movie is right for everyone, some people won't take from this film what I have. I recommend this film mainly to women from 18 to 35, straight, gay or bi. Men don't seem to be able to connect to this film on the level that women seem to, also it's politics and presumptions may be too radical for conservatives and too conservative for radicals. If you didn't like it that's okay, but its themes will speak to many people. Well written, acted, and directed.
This film had something for everyone: a loving view into a Jewish family,
including religious practices we rarely get to see on screen; a
between two women who are trying to find the right someone who "gets"
and having the courage to go after the things you want the most. Scott
is gorgeous and appealing as Josh Meyer, Jessica Stein's boss,
and friend of her brother. He convincingly moves from bitter and
through his own emotional journey when he sees Jessica summon the courage
be happy and seek her dreams. He sings beautifully in Hebrew, too!
Tovah Feldshuh was brilliant and touching as the Jewish mother with a true understanding of her daughter. No caricature here: she has one of the most touching scenes in the entire film. Jackie Hoffman was fun and funny as Jessica's best friend and coworker Joan, who lives vicariously through Jessica and Helen's adventures.
Jennifer Westfeldt (Jessica Stein) and Heather Juergensen (Helen Cooper) wrote, produced and starred in this wonderful, touching, funny view of single life in New York today. In fact, New York itself was a character in this film, providing both opportunities and barriers to the relationships among the characters. I highly recommend it!
At the beginning of "Kissing Jessica Stein" we meet Jessica (Jennifer
Westfeldt) sitting in synagogue between her mother and grandmother
discussing the lack of Jessica's love life. Jessica interrupts and says
"Shut up mother, I'm atoning." This sums up and sets the tone for the
greatness of this film - Jessica is authentic and very funny.
I connected instantly with Jessica as I am sure many single or recently single women can (and I'm not even Jewish). I usually hate making film comparisons to Woody Allen because a)its being done way too often and b)its just not Woody Allen who is still making great films for us. But in this case, part of my connection to Jessica is that writer and star Jennifer Westfeldt, like me, has probably seen "Annie Hall" one hundred times, and a great deal of Diane Keaton's Annie shines through in Jessica.
"Kissing Jessica Stein" is a romantic comedy about a girl who basically just doesn't know what she wants, but its better than that statement. The film is very well written and very funny. The relationships explored are real and three-dimensional and every element that moves the story forward is done with subtlety and humour. There is one mistake in the writing, and the writers make it obvious that they are writers, but it doesn't matter because the film is just that good. When they start getting too far from the audience with a character philosophizing about his current stance in life, they pull us right back in with a great line "You got dark." It also helps that Westfeldt is married to Jon Hamm and is friends with some of the best comedians in the business.
After you finish watching "Kissing Jessica Stein" (which, believe me, you have to), find Westfeldt's next foray into her version of romantic comedies "Ira and Abby" (2006). Oh, and if for some reason you haven't yet, see Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" (1977) first.
Kissing Jessica Stein is the smartest romantic comedy that I've seen post 1990. The writing is funny and witty. Also, the characters are genuine. I especially enjoyed watching the chemistry between Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen. You don't need to read more comments from more people; just go out and see this movie. Heck, see it again; it's like reading a book for the second time (like I said, it's smart and witty). You too can see why I call KJS a very smart romantic comedy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jessica Stein is a beautiful Jewish journalist who always have problems
with love. She is an intellectual who hates people who are superficial,
and always get disappointed because she is much more intelligent or
interesting than the regular guys she goes out in date. For her bad
luck, her brother is getting engaged and her mother is making pressure
on her to have a serious relationship with someone.
And there is Helen, a sexy artist who always go out in dates with many different men (many of them at the same time) and decides to experiment something new: women. With the help of her two gay friends, Helen writes a type of an advertising in the lesbian sector of the Journal. Jessica is attracted to Helen's ad,specially because it mentions one of her favorite writers, and also because she is a little tired to not have any lucky with men.
Now on, what we see are hilarious situations with the shy and reluctant Jessica to accept to be with Helen, who in the other hand is crazy for the commitment.
Ive used 'marinade' as a verb - so I was bound to like this
Highly enjoyable, honest, witty and refreshing. As good a movie as gets made these days. Finally a film driven by likable, intelligent characters and their relationships, not guns, explosions and two dimensional stereotypes and plots by (and for) 8 years olds.
KJS has a dash of fantasy from time to time, a cracking sound track, and although I wouldnt have called it a comedy - it's funny when it needs to be. But I think it was the honesty of the writing that I particularly took to - that and the moments that surprise. As many have noted - the scene with the mother on the veranda is a bit special.
If you like Woody Allen then this is one for you. If you look forward to the next Van Diesel effort, then I doubt you will stay beyond the credits...
ps Was the dedication 'For our parents' at the end of the film ironic? Watching this film with your parents could quite possibly be the single most embarrassing experience of your life.....if they are anything like mine that is....
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