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"Kissing Jessica Stein"

Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld.
Written by Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
Starring Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  4/3/02 


Shit, y'all wanna hang out?  I'll hang out!

Sorry, I just love saying that.  I've been saying that to everyone I know the last three weeks, and now I think it is really gonna catch on.  So, in that same vein of thought,

Shit, y'all like lesbian flicks?  I'll watch lesbian flicks!

I went over to one of San Francisco's dozen art-house theaters to watch the bi-curious love story "Kissing Jessica Stein", because I have seen almost every other film in the city that's out right now.  Yes, I've seen that many movies in the last few weeks.  Anyway, this film has a reasonably interesting premise:  a Jewish 20-something worker bee (Jennifer Westfeldt) is suffering failure after failure in the hetero dating field, so she answers an ad in the Village Voice (Jews in movies seem to all live in New York City, don't they?) in the "women seeking women" section.  After meeting the owner of the ad, attractive bi-sexual 20-something Helen (Heather Juergensen), Jessica overcomes some initial jitters about lesbian sex and telling her friends about dating a girl to discover a great relationship.

Here's the best way I can describe this experience as a straight male:  this film features almost nothing that appeals to me.  You come in thinking there will be some interesting lesbian conversation or sex scenes or something out of the ordinary...but, none of this film seems to feature these things.  It also is in that tricky comedy-drama category, but unfortunately, many of the film's lines fell flat and the drama is hurt mostly by Westfeldt's acting, which isn't very good.  Films that are written by their stars are always a little dicey; Juergensen and Westfeldt are good friends and wrote this script together, but I don't think they should have starred in the film.  This has worked for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in the past (BEFORE they sold out), and lately, Owen Wilson has shown some success in writing and starring in his films like "The Royal Tenenbaums."  But here, more with Westfeldt than with Juergensen, you can feel her acting theatrically, not acting naturally.

Throughout, though, I felt like women (straight or not) would get a lot more out of this film than men will.  But, I am sure that women will be surprised with how important Jessica and Helen make the sexual part of their relationship out to be; almost as if the writers felt that we would be bored watching the leads waltz "Ghost World"-style through the world and make fun of everyone, they instead go for the jugular and stress how important getting laid is to Helen.  So, we are made to watch a five-minute sequence detailing how worried Jessica is about "taking things slow" with Helen, and how they build up their tension by inching slowly around the proverbial sexual basepath by kissing one night, then necking the next, then fondling each other's breasts, etc.  This was so unfunny and boring that I thought I might slit the wrists.

The film does have a couple of great scenes, and they both feature Tovah Feldshun as Jessica's mother.  She is superb and has the film's best acting moment near the end of the film; you'll know what I mean if you see it.  More support from Jessica's best friend from work, Joan (Jackie Hoffman), is good too.  Plus, the film does have some great outdoor shots of spots around the Big Apple.  But otherwise, "Kissing Jessica Stein" is, just as Helen says mid-film, a big c---tease.  It also doesn't help that the laughs in this comedy are nearly nonexistent.

Rating:  Rental


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09