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Kissing Jessica Stein
2001 - R - 97 Mins.
Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Producer: Brad Zions
Written By: Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt
Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen, Tovah Feldshuh, Ben Weber, Brian Stepanek
Review by: Jennie Kermode
   
Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is a young straight woman who, despairing of the search for a man after a series of miserable blind dates, decides on impulse to answer a personal advert from a lesbian. What follows is a romantic comedy much of whose humour comes from a clash of cultures as two people figure out how to be themselves through the process of figuring out how they relate to one another.

'Kissing Jessica Stein' was just about what I'd expected it to be; well-written, sharply observed and often very funny, but sometimes unbearably shrill, and going overboard on the stereotypical Jewish neurosis thing in scenes which really would have benefited from a fiercer editor. That said, it was a romantic comedy which remained surprisingly watchable. It handled the essential cliches well, and, for the most part, managed to avoid excess sentiment. Part of its power came from its astute use of distance; even when their relationship was at its most intense, the leads rarely kissed, and Jessica's secondary love interest kissed her only once. It was left to the actors to convey feelings only subtly evoked by the script, and every one of them did a commendable job.

As with all romantic comedies, this film relied heavily on the likeability of its leads. Jessica, though passably pretty, could be intensely annoying, and the film only got away with this because her girlfriend Helen (Heather Juergensen), though mercifully more down-to-Earth, was clearly capable of being annoying in the same way, and of enjoying it. They were, in a word, 'girly,' which left me feeling quite distanced from the central relationship, at least until circumstances forced them to slow down and start dealing with real issues. This shifting focus at the centre of the film was a good thing in general, as it set aside the frantic skittishness of earlier scenes and made way for some more solid acting, at a pace which the director seemed more capable of handling.

As regards the queer content of the film, I was again impressed by the way in which familiar issues were handled with a sense of realism based on the actual personalities of the characters. The film was never preachy, and it didn't try to be all things to all people. It seemed aware that it had to sell itself on more than the novelty (to mainstream audiences) of lesbianism. Biphobia was addressed and set aside without the pretense that every bi-curious straight woman will ultimately prove capable of enjoying a healthy lesbian relationship. Some mileage was made out of distinctly queer relationship problems such as the business of introducing partners to parents, but it would've been silly to try and avoid that, especially in a Jewish film, and it was sensibly handled, without excessive hysteria.

In conclusion, I would recommend 'Kissing Jessica Stein' to all those who ordinarily enjoy romantic comedies; it is affectionate, energetic, playful and sometimes angstful, with an unusually subtle ending. For other filmgoers, it's certainly a passable evening's entertainment, and pleasingly intelligent, but not without its flaws.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

 
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