It's not the highest concept in the world, but place a single woman in New York City and everyone seems to understand that this is story about a plucky underdog thrown into the teeth of adversity. Ever if that plucky underdog happens to look like Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly or Marlo Thomas' Anne Marie. And even if it's no longer the relatively innocent 1960s. Today we have HBO's "Sex and The City," a show that seems thrilled to enlist post-modern feminism and pay cable's adult content as it sends its four single heroines into the trenches. But last we checked, New York was still winning.
Slipping quietly into the fray is the new film "Kissing Jessica Stein." The two women at the center of the story, Jessica and Helen, are single Manhattanites who are not finding fulfillment from the men in their lives. Helen, a libertine artist, decides to take out a personal ad in the Women Seeking Women classifieds. Jessica, a sweet but tightly wound heterosexual copy editor, decides to answer it, much to her own surprise. What follows is one of the most cautious and patient courtships you're likely to see in a romantic comedy, and therein lies the film's charm.
"Kissing Jessica Stein" appears to inhabit the same world as "Sex and The City," except the HBO crews have gone home and the locations have gone back to being under lit. And as a low budget feature film with a theme of sexual adventurism destined to play the urbane small theater circuit, "Kissing Jessica Stein" might be expected to push the single girl envelope. Shockingly, the film is wholesome, heartfelt and agenda free. And interestingly enough, more honest and yes even more adult than "Sex and The City." The only time the film openly stumbles is when it tries to get a sitcom laugh, as it does during the historical montage of Jessica's horrible string of blind dates. The filmmakers get the laugh, but they didn't need it. They're playing with a higher concept....how can two women be lovers without being lesbians? There's an answer, but it would be unfair to give it away. The film is worth seeing.
Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, who play Jessica and Helen respectively, also co-wrote the screenplay and did so with great affection. Jessica's meddling yenta of a mother, played by Tovah Feldshuh, is given the sweetest moment in the film. And Jessica's hovering boss and ex-boyfriend, played by Scott Cohen, is given a chance to earn his own redemption. Radical stuff. There are plenty of legitimate laughs and just enough stuff to chew on to make "Kissing Jessica Stein" a sleeper. Or at least a good slumber party.
© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 03/02
Kissing Jessica Stein
USA - 2001