kissing jessica stein

2001

Directed by: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Written by: Heather Juergensen & Jennifer Westfeldt

Almost too cute for its own good, this Woody-Allen-inspired lesbian parable does for lesbians what Will & Grace does so successfully for gay men, to convince the world that we're not all tight-asses with an agenda and no senses of humour. Yes, we can laugh at ourselves. Who knew?

Helen (Juergensen) works in an art gallery where she often has up to three guys on the side at any given time. For some reason (let's just swallow the believeability factor here shall we?) she takes it into her head to long for a gay relationship, and decides to take out a personal ad.

Jessica (Westfeldt) longs for a romantic relationship that moves her and that she can believe in. One that would make her Jewish mother happy and get her off her case about marriage certainly wouldn't hurt either. So she starts serial dating one jerk/nerd after another. Finally, in despair, she answers a personal ad that speaks to her. The catch? The ad has been placed by a woman. Helen.

Thus follows a series of quirky dates where Helen and Jessica flirt, learn to deal with their growing attraction to one another, and eventually end up in bed, albeit after a long and hilarious courtship that features at its height a very frank discussion about sex toys that had me rolling in the aisles.

Lurking in the wings is Jessica's nemesis, her boss Josh Myers, her ex-fiance and the one man in the world who can infuriate her above all others. He still carries a torch for her and jibes her constantly about having given up her dreams of being an artist, while watching his own dreams of writing go down the tubes at the same time. They're a miserable pair and it shows. The fact that they hate each other so much almost guarantees they are destined to reunite, extreme agitation being romcom speak for "made for each other".

Helen and Jessica do fall in love, and Helen discovers a true passion for women that she could never have previously imagined. Her self-discovery is possibly the only emotion in the film that seems more than skin deep. Helen's shock and heartache over Jessica's discovery that she in fact isn't gay at all was the thing that touched me most in the film, along with Jessica's mother (Tovah Feldshuh, the ultimate Jewish mum!) and her unswerving acceptance of her daughter's choices in life.

But this is romantic comedy land, and although the ending is not the ending I think I would have chosen, it does wrap things up nicely and happily. At least one of them remains a lesbian at the end - a definite bonus. Pretty production values, a quirky New York atmosphere and a gorgeous, funny cast make this possibly the most unthreatening gay film in years, and one with infinite crossover appeal.

I found in this film a lot to laugh at, but not a lot to identify with. Still, I think there were enough laugh-out-loud moments to be memorable, and Tovah Feldshuh's performance was truly heartwarming.

Note: Deserves kudos for being the first film I can think of to use the word "bi-curious", an interesting term gaining more and more popularity.

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