I’m not sure why anybody would want to kiss Jessica Stein. Her face is pointy, her body is nervous. And really, she’s fairly dull.
If only a lesbian dalliance made people interesting!
Sadly, it doesn’t. Nor does a sapphic diversion make for an engaging film. Case in point: “Mulholland Drive.”
Other case in point: “Kissing Jessica Stein,” a truly mediocre and silly work from director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, who fared better in 2001 with “The Facts of Life Reunion.” Sad.
Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is a high-strung Jewish New York single girl who can’t find a man. Generalize away.
Though the script attempts to spin her anal, uptight personality as quirky, I think everyone in my audience wanted to slap her. Other nods towards giving her depth fail miserably. Of course she’s a failed painter: her “art” is laughably bad despite other character’s oohs and aahs.
Jessica’s unmarried status is upsetting to her, traumatic to her mother. (A Jewish mother wanting her daughter to get married more than life itself! Come on writer, work harder here.)
When her younger brother announces he’s getting married, she goes on an (admittedly amusing) dating binge with wrong, bad, stupid, ridiculous men. I await the day that we can present lesbianism as a viable lifestyle of its own and not merely an escape from the terrifying O.H.M. (oafish heterosexual male). This film won’t take that step; it’s still trying to put together an interesting story.
So Jessica answers an ad in the paper placed by a horny heterosexual female looking to experiment with women. The two women become friends, play at being reluctant lovers, and eventually, surprise, surprise, find themselves falling for each other.
The story’s trajectory takes a slightly interesting turn at the end when the romantic comedy formula seems to unravel: the women’s relationship falls apart. But each woman nevertheless becomes part of a different couple — the fantasy of union is preserved at all costs and the women remain friends.
Again, a writing problem here: if we are to believe that indeed Jessica and her new lover, Helen (Heather Juergensen), shared a profound and substantial relationship, I find it nearly impossible to believe that their breakup can so seamlessly translate into a giddy friendship in which they share tidbits about their other lovers. A lesbian experience does not a better person make; audiences can tolerate more sensitive and subtle stories.
It bears mentioning that anyone looking for a sophisticated understanding of sexuality and gender ought to avoid this film at all costs. The film truly paints Woman as merely a vagina-bearer; the genitals make the man.
Though the film attempts to navigate the essential debate about homosexuality (whether it’s innate or culturally constructed), in the end, we’re left with the nagging feeling that nobody involved in the film was quite intelligent enough to have a concrete position on the matter.
The real benefit, the real joy, of the lesbian relationship between Jessica and Helen seems to be nothing more than having a lover who can also advise you on lipstick shades and the most fashionable shoes. This is not only a trite conception of what is means to be a woman, but also ignores the essence of lesbian coupling (whether biologically destined or autonomously chosen): that is, any relationship must navigate the gender politics of its participants. To ignore this reality is to damn this film to a life of irrelevance.
Perhaps the greatest offense of the film was to literally elide the scene where Jessica and Helen finally make love. Their awkward kisses have been all too-visible, but their ultimate coupling is made absent, erased by a black screen and temporal jump.
This odd choice suggests that lesbianism should remain secret, masked. Frankly, the film would have earned my support if it had tried to demythologize lesbian allure and remind us that no matter who’s in bed, it’s ultimately the same awkward, messy, wonderful stuff.