For years, NBC has tried to find suitable programs to fill the 8:30 and
9:30 time slots in their Thursday night "Must See TV" line-up. If they
had a lick of sense, they would contact Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather
Juergensen and say, "You know what you did in 'Kissing Jessica Stein'?
How about doing that for us on a weekly basis?"
Based on their play "Lipschtick," Westfeldt and Juergensen, along with
director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, have crafted a breezy romantic comedy
that has the punch of a good sitcom, while offering exceptionally
well-detailed characters. The film chronicles a relationship from
inception to breakup so nicely that I left the theater yearning to find
out what happens to these people next.
Jessica (Westfeldt) works in NYC alongside her ex-lover (Scott Cohen) as
a proofreader, although she is an artist at heart. After dating a slew
of losers (portrayed in a succession of glimpses at the duds that are
amusing, but too close to caricature). When Jessica spots a favorite
quote in the personal ads, she is intrigued. Unfortunately, the ad is in
the "Women Seeking Women" section. To her surprise, Jessica remains
intrigued. So she meets Helen (Juergensen), who works in an art gallery
and is more comfortable in her skin than Jessica. Helen often dates men,
but happily cozies up with women from time to time.
Can a bisexual and a neurotic experimenter find love together? "Kissing
Jessica Stein" examines every aspect of that question and the results
are funny, sweet, touching and genuine.
For many people whose sexual orientation is firmly grounded at the
hetero or homo ends of the Kinsey scale, bisexuality is viewed as
something exotic and a bit suspicious. While the notion of "falling for
the person, not the plumbing," looks good on paper, it's hard to imagine
someone being drawn to both the soft curves of a woman and the hard
muscles of a man. The film addresses all of that without ever even
approaching a soapbox because, above all else, "Kissing Jessica Stein"
is about individuals.
It's also about the cadence of a relationship. In almost every romance,
there is one person more insecure than the other; worrying, fussing and
generally trying too hard. The film captures every ungainly moment of
that in a fashion reminiscent of early Woody Allen, but a tad more
That clunkiness is a plus. "Kissing Jessica Stein" gets where it needs
to go, with the expected stops along the way, but the clunkiness keeps
the storyline from ever landing precisely where we would predict.
Stumbling along with Jessica and Helen as they try to figure out what to
do next with their romance is a treat. Whether together or apart,
watching their smart, goofy struggles is something I would like to do
more often. Perhaps every week on Thursdays. Are you listening, NBC?
Copyright © 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott