Not that there’s anything wrong with that

Kissing Jessica Stein

Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld

(Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen, Scott Cohen)

Rated R

Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is a single, attractive New York editor fed up with the lack of quality men in the dating pool. She reluctantly responds to a woman-seeking-woman ad featuring a line of Rilke poetry from Helen (Heather Juergensen), a bi-curious art gallery assistant beginning to see logic in subtracting all the Y-chromosomes from her love life. That’s the premise for Kissing Jessica Stein, an endearing contemporary comedy whose sharply drawn characters can’t quite overshadow the film’s weaker moments (such as presenting lipstick color as a metaphor for sexual preference) but add to its wisdom.

Written by its two co-stars, Stein’s honest approach and favor of realism over plot contrivances is refreshing; When Jessica’s former college boyfriend Josh (a solid Scott Cohen) steals a rooftop kiss, we expect Helen to come bursting in, throw a fit, and promptly storm out. Instead, first-time director Charles Hurman-Wurmfeld’s discreet style adheres not only to the personal motives of the multi-dimensional characters, but also to the situation itself. In one clever scene, Juergensen and the Jennifer Aniston-ish Westfeldt craftily expose men’s faulty, chauvinistic perception of lesbianism, and we understand this film is more about emotional needs than sex.

However, for all the eschewing of triviality, Stein doesn’t appear as groundbreaking as the filmmakers think it is. The film plays Jessica and Helen’s eyebrow-raising moments with needless restraint-aiming for situation-style comedy laughs instead of curiosity-as if trying not to offend those in the audience uncomfortable with the sight of two women genuinely expressing their feelings for one another. Stein is as user friendly in its subject matter and tone as Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia was for exposing the mass audience to AIDS and homosexuality in a studio picture.

That’s unfortunate, because Hurman-Wurmfeld’s film doesn’t need to teeter on a line of delicacy when approaching an honest and mature subject with such high levels of intelligence. If only Kissing Jessica Stein had taken its own advice-and, like Jessica herself-not been so reluctant to, er, go the distance.

– Charlie Hobart

 

Kissing Jessica Stein shows at Uptown Theatre