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Kissing Jessica Stein

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Kissing Jessica Stein

Starring: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen
Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Rated: R
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genres: Comedy, Gay/Lesbian, Romance

*Also starring: David Aaron Baker, Scott Cohen, Tovah Feldshuh, Jackie Hoffman

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
2½ stars out of 4

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 clunky.

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

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