out of five
: 97 mins
Enjoyable, New York-set ‘bi-try’ romantic comedy with a sharp script and sweet performances by its two leads.
Kissing Jessica Stein began life as an off-Broadway play called Lipschtick,
written by its two stars, Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen.
According to Westfeldt, it ran for six days before attracting major
Hollywood interest, though most studios wanted to buy it for Cameron Diaz or
Jennifer Aniston. Fortunately, the two women stuck to their guns and the
film has emerged as an independent, Woody Allen-esque romantic comedy that’s
Jessica Stein (played by Jennifer Westfeldt, who’s a bit like Lisa Kudrow)
is a neurotic journalist who’s fed up with the string of loser-dates she’s
had in the past. (Cue the obligatory montage of disastrous dates). On a
whim, she answers an intriguing ‘woman seeking woman’ personal ad and meets
Helen Cooper (Juergensen), a sexually curious art gallery owner intending to
embark on her first lesbian affair. The two begin a tentative relationship,
though neither is entirely sure they know what they’re doing…
The two leads are superb, as you’d expect, given that they created and
developed the characters themselves. Both are believable and both have
recognisable flaws – Jessica is very whiny, Heather is frequently moody.
There’s also a strong support cast, including Jackie Hoffman as Jessica’s
odd-looking best friend. Helen’s two bickering gay best friends (Ben Weber
and Brian Stepanek) are also extremely amusing and provide some of the
film’s funniest lines.
Woody Allen comparisons are inevitable, given the use of New York locations,
the quality of the one-liners and the abundance of Jewish humour, but the
film is more than up to the comparison. Admittedly, it occasionally
over-does the clichés (the Jewish mother-jokes, the Crap Dates montage), but
the script is sharply observed and it wins points for its refreshingly
realistic ending, as well as its deft avoidance of potential PC pitfalls.
In short, Kissing Jessica Stein makes a refreshing change from the usual
Hollywood rom-com rubbish. (Animal Attraction, anyone? How about Kate &
Leopold? Thought not.) The script is amusing and the two leads are
excellent. It also deserves points for its inspired tag-line punning:
"Sometimes she just can’t think straight.” Recommended.