PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Twenty-eight-year-old Jessica Stein, a Jewish copyeditor living and working in New York City, is plagued by failed blind dates with men, and decides to answer a newspaper’s personal advertisement containing a quote from Rilke that she had read and admired earlier. The advertisement has been placed by Helen Cooper, a thirtysomething bisexual art gallerist who is seeking a lesbian relationship to replace her unsatisfying and meaningless sex with men.
Given some of the men Jessica is shown to be test-dating at the start of the film, ranging from borderline gay to nerd, some would probably say that it’s no surprise she’d want to fan out her prospects a little. As nervous as Jessica is about dating Helen, she realizes after a surprise kiss that even a different experience can be good. Through the early part of their relationship, Jessica finds in Helen everything she’d dreamed of finding in a man. They are compatible, they like many of the same things, and they are caring for one another. Even when Helen gets sick—which she says earlier in the film never happens to her—Jessica is there to care for her.
The only predicament for the relationship is Jessica’s nervousness concerning same-sex intimacy. Over the early weeks of their relationship, she and Helen slowly work on building up her confidence in this area by gradually extended make-out sessions. Eventually, they graduate to full intimacy, which is initiated by Jessica during an over night stay at her parents’ home in Scarsdale. In spite of Jessica’s happiness with Helen, she keeps the relationship secret. Jessica’s secrecy means that she has to endure scenes that would not happen had she been open about the two of them. One example occurs during a dinner to celebrate her brother’s engagement. Her mother had invited an IBM executive in hopes of setting him up with Jessica.
Helen and Jessica later get into a quarrel about Jessica’s refusal to inform her family of their relationship, resulting in an apparent breakup. It isn’t until later, as her brother’s wedding approaches, that her mother figures out that they are dating. Her mother reminds Jessica of when she was little and had been given the lead in the school play, but after the first rehearsal, Jessica had deemed her co-star not to be up to the task. She quit the play because she thought the play wouldn’t be “the best ever.” Her mother says that she worries about Jessica having this attitude towards life, and that sometimes she thinks back to that night and thinks that if Jessica went on, maybe it wouldn’t have been the best, but it might have been pretty good—and who knows, maybe it would have been the best ever. She then tells Jessica that she thinks Helen “is a very nice girl.”
This acceptance on her mother’s part gives Jessica the confidence to come out in the open with her relationship with Helen, and invites her as her guest to her brother’s wedding. Helen quickly becomes popular with the other women at the reception, who don’t seem to mind at all her lesbian relationship with Jessica. At the same time, Jessica gets a love confession from her ex-beau and current boss Josh, who declares he’s had for a long time feelings for her. Jessica rejects him, explaining that she already has Helen. Jessica and Helen move in together, but their relationship, while good in most respects, begins to suffer from a lack of frequent sexual intimacy. Jessica’s behavior towards Helen is more akin to that of a sister or friend rather than a sexual partner. The relationship ends amidst Jessica’s tears and Helen’s realization that she wants more than Jessica is willing to offer. After moving beyond the heartbreak, Jessica and Helen appear to remain friends, and it is suggested that Jessica might have now a renewed interest in Josh, after both have left the newspaper where they both previously worked.
Back in college, I can remember watching Kissing Jessica Stein one afternoon while I was sick. Now, keep in mind, I was your typical college male, so the thought of a film about lesbians intrigued the hell out of me.
Yes, ladies, I am more than aware of how you do not understands why it is that we guys are so fascinated with you homosexual sisters, and yet disgusted with our brothers. As a matter of fact, there is a scene fairly early on in this picture where they actually ask that question.
There are good and bad parts to this film. Let’s have a change of pace and start with the bad…
I realize that these people are Jewish and all, but I just couldn’t get past how they were beating the audience over the head with it. Picture the way Glee makes sure that we know who is gay and who isn’t and multiply by 100, that’s how bad they get with the Jewish stuff. The only thing missing were the stereotypical bagels and lochs and the guys with the curly sideburn things.
This may just be a male thing, but for a film about lesbians, there sure was a lack of lesbian action. I wasn’t expecting porn levels of action, mind you, but they barely seemed to touch each other, and when something did get going, some guy came in and ruined everything. Granted, this is part of the plot and all, but they could have at least given us something.
For an overly dramatic romantic comedy, this film moves along at a fairly brisk pace and doesn’t stop to smell the roses on the way.
The cast is great, especially the female leads. Heather Juergensen gets special kudos for being able to pull off the bicurious Helen, who actually appears to be a bit of a slut, as you can tell from her introduction.
The few comedic scenes are a nice touch. They don’t feel forced on the audience or just random bits of levity for the sake of attempting to be “hip” or “cool”.
Kissing Jessica Stein is a pretty good film, though not my usual faire. For those of you looking for a good love story and a non-cheesy romantic comedy (yes, they do exist!), then this is the flick for you. I highly recommend it, so, while it isn’t perfect, I suggest you give it a shot!
4 out of 5 stars