U.S. Release Date: March 13, 2002
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Producer: Doug Liman (associate)
Composer: Marcelo Zarvos
Cast: Michael Ealy, Jon Hamm
Running Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (sexual content and language)

Kissing to be Clever
by Scott Holleran

Fox Searchlight lives up to its name with its clever Kissing Jessica Stein, written by newcomers Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt, two talented ladies who wrote, produced and star in this intelligently funny film. Both show promise with their story of two Manhattan women seeking women.

Blending the New York Jew with the lipstick lesbian, Kissing Jessica Stein manages to be thought-provoking while avoiding both stereotypes and voyeurism. The outcome will leave horny straight guys looking for a thrill and Queer Nation types looking for a flag bearer thoroughly disappointed. Kissing Jessica Stein leaves the rest of us tickled pink.

Jessica Stein, (Jennifer Westfeldt), is a heterosexual, Jewish journalist struggling to meet Mr. Right in Manhattan. Stein, whose neurotic personality is modern, New York mythology, yearns for meaning in her romance, though—in a hilarious series of date scenes with men—she finds only putz after putz.

Unfortunately for Stein, her ex-boyfriend, Josh, (Scott Cohen), who apparently wasn't good enough, is also her editor, a role he relishes by throwing zingers at Stein, sending her back to the personals for vindication.

That's how Stein finds hip, artsy Helen Cooper, (sexy Heather Juergensen, a dead ringer for Illeana Douglas), whose willing to have sex with virtually anything that breathes. Helen is a vixen yearning for another new experience, egged on by her gay male friends—unfortunately, played as two swishers—so she sets out to ensnare Stein on their first date. The fun, bolstered by a smoky soundtrack, and an almost madcap, 1940s sensibility, begins.

With self-doubting Stein about as easy as hailing a taxi at rush hour—and director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld uses the classic cab scene skillfully—Helen embarks on a relentless quest to bed down the uptight Stein.

When Stein turns each episode into a clinical study, complete with sex manual readings, Helen starts to wonder if Jessica Stein is worth kissing—and conquering—after all. As the would-be lesbian couple conducts their experiment, everyone from bitter Josh to pregnant best friend Joan (scene-stealing Jackie Hoffman) and Jessica Stein's Jewish mother (Tovah
Feldshuh) is driven to do their own, personal inventory and the climax—surrounding a wedding—is at once inventive, moving and humorous.

The chemistry between cool Juergensen and Westfeldt, whose high-pitched portrayal recalls a young Dianne Wiest, is infectious.

Not that Kissing Jessica Stein is a tidy affair; the overlong plot is convoluted and Stein's psychosexual drama isn't entirely realistic. But, just when you think you know what's going to happen, it doesn't—yet everyone ends up getting the kiss they deserve.

Buy on DVD

DVD Notes
The amiable Kissing Jessica Stein is one of the better DVD packages, with numerous deleted scenes and outtakes, commentary from the director and both Juergensen and Westfeldt, theatrical trailer and a fun, clever feature with both women explaining how and why they created this comedy about romance and friendship. Among the extras: Juergensen's character engages in a little lesbian wish fulfillment with Jackie Hoffman's pregnant character, whose discovery scene with Westfeldt is still a hoot.

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