Kissing Jessica Stein

movie still

Or, if you prefer, When Jessica Met Helen...

Comparisons with When Harry Met Sally (or Woody Allen) are unavoidable, I suppose, when you have a romantic comedy feauring a neurotic Jewish lead, classic big-band soundtrack, appealing New York locations and a plot about what happens after friends have sex. Of course, both the leads here are female, so you know by now that the movie doesn't end with a discussion of what cake was served at their wedding, never mind whether the chocolate sauce should be on the side.

Helen (Juergensen), bored with the three unfulfilling boyfriends she is currently stringing along, decides to place a personal ad looking for a woman "for friendship or more." In amongst many scary replies, there's a message from Jessica (Westfeldt, who's like the whiny, less talented version of Lisa Kudrow), who's sure she's straight, but is intrigued by the literary quote in Helen's ad.

After an uneasy first date, the pair hit it off, although the sex part doesn't exactly flow easily at first. Which is where the title comes in, because kissing is as far as it goes for a while, mainly because of Jessica's aversion to sex. There's a particularly excrutiating scene where Jessica produces all this research she has done on the subject, much to Helen's embarassment and bewilderment. But, as expected, they get beyond the kissing in the end.

Essentially, the movie's plot is kind of slight, as the gruesome twosome have ups and downs and there's a bitter-sweet ending which is happy, but not in the conventional sense of most rom-coms. Beyond the main casting twist, there's not a great deal you haven't seen before: Jessica has an initial parade of bad (male) dates; Jessica's meddling mother (an engaging turn from Tovah Feldshuh, best known from TV's Law and Order) tries to set her up, even at temple; Helen's gay friends are entirely camp, colourful and amusing, but ultimately clichéd and superfluous.

Based on Westfeldt and Juergensen's own play, Lipschtick, the writer-producer-leads have succeeded in their original intention of creating two strong, realistic female characters (well, three including Mrs Stein). They are certainly not afraid to make Helen and Jessica unsympathetic at times (or, in Jessica's case, all the time). There's the occasional piece of nice dialogue, but everyone seems to talk more like movie characters than real people and that is entirely down to our screenwriting leads.

The film got a lot of publicity at its time of release and went on to be a sleeper hit. I'm guessing that this was mostly because of the novelty factor and also because the story behind the making of the movie - two out-of-work nobodies write a film for themselves, make good - is the sort of story that plays well to a certain section of the US population. It's mildly different from your average join-the-dots rom-com in that it's not boy-meets-girl but, when neither Feldshuh nor Juergensen are on screen, there is nothing at all to hold the attention.

Buy it

Recommendations

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Director:
Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
Screenwriters:
Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen
Starring:
Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen, Scott Cohen, Tovah Feldshuh
Release details:
Fox Searchlight, USA 2002, 1h 36m
Genre:
Romantic comedy
Our rating:
4 out of 10
User rating:

Rating: 5 [1 votes]

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