Directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, starring Jennifer Westfeld, Heather Juergensen, Scott Cohen, Tovah Feldshuh and Jackie Hoffman.
Lesbianism. Or rather, I'll try lesbianism and see if it suits me. That, in the tiniest nutshell imaginable, encapsulates what 'Kissing Jessica Stein' is all about. Originally entitled 'Lipschtick', this is anything but a conventional romance, but considering the many execrable turkeys that are, is that such a bad thing?
Jessica Stein (Westfeld) is a thirty-something New York journalist struggling to find happiness in her personal life. She's successful, she's beautiful, she has a strong network of family and friends, but she still hasn't met that special someone. Her emotional fragility and increasing need for companionship is exacerbated by the fact that her brother is getting hitched, her best friend is pregnant and she hasn't dated in over a year.
Reminding herself that her previous relationships have been frequently disastrous, Jessica decides an alternative dating method - personal ads. One, in particular, stands out, but there's just one catch - it's in the 'women seeking women' section. Throwing caution to the wind, the loveless journalist answers the ad and sets off for her date with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation.
The woman seeking another woman turns out to be Helen (Juergensen), a vivacious art gallery worker. Instinctively, the pair hit it off, and despite Jessica's initial protestations that they could only ever be friends because she's not gay, romantic developments soon ensue.
It sounds from all of this that 'Kissing Jessica Stein' is a pro-lesbian film that has the sentiment 'all men are bastards' stamped all over it. Refreshingly, it isn't and it hasn't. It's pro-relationships, it's pro-people, and its counsel on embracing life and love is free from any attempt to judge, permeate or patronise.
However, the film's intrinsic thesis that sex is the defining aspect of relationships is a little too simplistic at times. The notion that a little open-mindedness and loss of inhibition can lead to the most unexpected situations is easy to grasp, but doesn't it fail to account for fate and nature, not to mention the spice of romance? This is, of course, simply a question of ideology, and as the film progresses, all ideological differences are smoothed over by the sensitive direction of Charles Herman-Wurmfeld.
The best thing about 'KJS' is the leads. The scenes between Westfeldt and Juergensen evince the level of emotional involvement they both have with the whole project. This is, after all, their project - from its genesis as rudimentary sketch comedy to off-Broadway play and, finally, to it potential maker or breaker, the silver screen. It should be its maker. Westfeldt, in particular, is a real find and her portrayal of a modern woman struggling to survive in a culture of instant gratification is spot on.
'Kissing Jessica Stein' deserves to be seen with an open mind and, it must be said, a lot of patience. If you can manage that much, this charming, thought-provoking New York fest of life and love has its rewards. And no, you don't need to be a lesbian.