Kissing Jessica Stein
Guy Lochhead, 21/03/12
2001 rom-com about two women in their first lesbian relationship, and the impact that has on their lives. It developed out of a stand-up sketch by two of the actors, Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt, called Lipschtick. I really enjoyed this film. It’s similar to Bridesmaids in how it subtly subverts a lot of stereotypes whilst retaining the comforting tropes of the mainstream (or rejects them in a way familiar to the audience). A lot of reviewers have criticised the courtship scenes as being too cutesy and drawn-out, but that just seems to be to be expecting the “dyke” stereotype. These characters are nervous and full of constructs mostly resulting from previous relationships (not just hetero-sexual relationships – family (the Jewish theme) and friendships (Stein’s friend at work) too…). Their relationship begins as a firm friendship – not a friendship based on keeping a secret (as in some less original lesbian fiction) but on sharing information and concerns. This needs time. Another point of contention is the role of the ex-boyfriend, Josh, who spends much of the film as a villain and then appears at the end in a library. Some reviewers have described him as the “saviour of Jessica’s heterosexuality” but that is ignoring two things – the change in self-confidence and self-worth evident in Jessica’s new, only-half-interested-but-civil way of talking to him; and a previous exchange with a female librarian, which has much more sexual chemistry than the Josh conversation. The most sensible review I read of this celebrated it as a validation of sexual experimentation. Exactly. Both characters move on from their time together in different ways, but both are changed for the better. A few more good things: both women have proper jobs that they enjoy and are good at, the sequence between Jessica and her mother is beautifully staged and acted; the stories of guerrilla filming in New York, and presence of curious passers-by in the background of scenes, adds to the Big Apple feel of this film, creating a much bigger, much more realistic, celebration of the city and its sex lives than Sex And The City etc.

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