This week:
Kissing Jessica Stein

Filthy says:
"Crushes your dreams about lesbians."

Beginning your movie title with a participle is probably the best way to tell the world you're an asshole who thinks he's clever and just loves to hear his characters talk and talk and talk. It tells people: "This movie isn't really about the participle; that's just a coy device." See, Finding Forrester isn't about finding Forrester. It's about finding yourself. They're all about finding your fucking self.

Participle titles are just about the easiest and most obvious way to make your movies appear both pretentious and bland enough to lure the phonies and downtown fakers. The piss-on-granny-bad Being Human starring Robin Williams, and Kevin Smith's I-Love-to-Hear-Myself-Talk Chasing Amy are the best examples. So is the unfunny Saving Silverman, the massively self-indulgent Storytelling, the overly self-amused Being John Malkovich, spiritual train-wreck Pushing Tin, and the seriously-stupid Finding Forrester. Sylvester Stallone could have made his big gay pile-up Driven sound arthouse-ready had he named it Driving.

There are exceptions, sure, like Being There and Gleaming the Cube, which overcame their titles to become classics. There are also some movies that would have been better as participle flicks; I didn't want to see The Bone Collector, but I would have gladly gone to Boning the Collector. On the other hand, I would have been way less willing to see The Man Who Wasn't There if it were Being Not the Man Who Was There, or Go if it were Going.

Kissing Jessica Stein is a participle movie. It's a cold, calculated fraud built with a timid gimmick, sitcom jokes and a cheap formula, all blown along by a gusts of nattering and whining.

Yeah, okay, people will say I'm pissed because this girl-girl relationship movie has absolutely no hot girl-girl action. Not one of Candy Bottoms's masterful lesbo tricks is here: not the Upward Camel, the Captain Rump, the Wandering Jew or the Unseen Thumb. That did bother me at first and I felt gypped. But, I'm trying to be a critic here and that means not letting a movie's lack of salacious nudity distract me from its other qualities. To that end, I jerked off a bunch before writing this so I could view the movie as a man drained of his desires, and also feeling sort of empty and sad. With clarity, I can tell you Kissing Jessica Stein stinks--and I hate myself.

Star and co-writer Jennifer Westfeldt is copy editor Jessica Stein, yet another in an endless stream of whiny, neurotic Manhattanites with love troubles. Like all Manhattan single women, she has a fabulous apartment and a refrigerator holding only Chinese takeout and Haagen Dazs. Add to this that while she is an tightly-wound perfectionist by day, she's an undiscovered abstract painter by night. It's also implied that she's really smart because she reads philosophy. That's an elephant's load of crap because anyone can read philosophy. It's actually understanding it that means someone's smart. She shows absolutely no capacity to do more than recognize sentences out of context.

After the same fucking series of "wacky" disastrous blind dates that we see in every movie about whiny people who can't find love, she is smitten by a personal ad from someone quoting Rilke. It turns out to be from a woman (co-writer Heather Juergensen), but Westfeldt is so desperate she'll try anything to find a soulmate. All the while, of course, she works with her gruff ex-boyfriend and they secretly still want each other. (Guess who she ends up with. Think real hard: what would a movie that pretends it's arthouse but is really pure Hollywood do?)

Juergensen is a gallery art director and a wild bohemian with three boyfriends and two "sassy" gay sidekicks who try to shock us with their use of the word "dick." My word, gay men like dicks, what a shocker. She has never had a lesbian relationship either, but is more determined and looser than Westfeldt. The two women slowly negotiate a relationship they are comfortable with, and that has plenty of whiny interludes where Westfeldt deliberates about telling her family and friends about her totally daring decision. There are "comedic" stops along the way for the girls to discuss who will wear the strap-on devices, let the gay men get snippy, and titillate two men who think lesbian sex is hot. The strap-on scene is absurd because the answer is so fucking obvious. One lesbian doesn't wear it; both do, and they have swordfights and pretend they're pirates. Derrr.

Ultimately, Westfeldt has to come to terms with what she was looking for: not a sexual partner but a friend. And the last fifteen minutes of the movie rush her to a heterosexual end that feels as compromised and calculated as the rest of this movie. It's not about a girl kissing Jessica Stein, see, it's about her embracing herself.

That's what's horseshit, because as far as I can tell, the two leads in this movie already love themselves plenty. The movie isn't about their relationship and it's not about the reactions of others. It's about them being impressed with themselves. The relationship and the tiresome dialog skims along the surface, talking about lipstick and pants. We're told the girls are attracted to each other but they're more self-involved than my dog sniffing its ass. The lengthy gabbing is too busy throwing in quotes and ideas by better writers to establish its pedigree than getting to the point. And Westfeldt unloads her fake neuroses in too many dull ripoffs of good Woody Allen. Good Woody Allen slices right to the bone, but a bad imitation is like a rusty saw blade; it grinds noisily but it never cuts.

One particularly annoying scene shows Westfeldt is too uptight because she won't talk about sex while shopping for produce. That doesn't seem uptight to me; it seems like common sense. Only smug pricks who think the world wants to know about their peccadillos talk about them loudly in public. That's the way this movie is; it's like the asshole with the cell phone who wants you to hear how cool and adventurous he is.

Kissing Jessica Stein is also as calculatedly safe as an NBC sitcom. Westfeldt and Juergensen aren't so much committed to an idea as they are to making this story inoffensive while enjoying the fruits of being "outrageous." Although I saw it in the pretentious Landmark theater, it's extremely artless. The "daring" bits are clearly pointed out to us as "daring," and they are only as daring as basic cable. The sex is never shown and the kissing is never passionate. The heroine ends up hetero because that's easier to sell to the public.

The secondary characters are tiresome clichés dragged out to prop up the flagging main story. There is a potty-mouthed granny, the gay Greek Chorus, the acerbic best friend at work, the mother who really knows her daughter is doing it with a chick, and the co-worker she really loves.

I want more lesbian cinema. I want bull-dykes playing softball and lipstick lesbians falling in love, and sometimes bull-dykes beating the shit out of lipstick lesbians. I don't want to pay eight bucks for another participle flick that plays like an extended episode of "Will and Grace." Two Fingers for Kissing Jessica Stein.

Want to tell Filthy Something?

Filthy's Reading
Dawn Powell- The Wicked Pavilion

Listening to
TheModern Lovers- Precise Modern Lovers Order

His Girl Friday

Steve Iervolino posing as a critic for Launch

Steve achieves the honor with a single quote os highly-concentrated whoring:

Panic Room is "One of the best films you'll see all year!"

Did Miss Cleo tell you this, Steve, or are you clairvoyant all by yourself?


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