Kissing Jessica Stein
The social pressures placed on single women have been myriad throughout the ages. Plays, books and movies often revolve
around a female's search for her true love that it has almost become something of a cliche. Even in the 21st Century, nothing
has changed. Turn on the television and you can watch HBO's popular comedy series Sex and the City or NBC's Friends or
any of the knockoffs airing, and see contemporary women (and men) struggling with the rituals of dating. But what if one
were to add a twist of some sort? Say, make it about two men. Well, then you'd have a film like last year's All Over the Guy
or Big Eden, two genial comedy-dramas that, for some reason, held little appeal critics and audiences. Okay, let's try
focusing on two women. Presto! It's Kissing Jessica Stein, a critical favorite that shows signs of being a modest box-office
success. One has to wonder though, what the reception would have been if the movie had been titled Kissing Jerry Stein and
was about two men. Of course, since two women is a heterosexual male's fantasy (something addressed in the film), . well,
who says there's not a double standard?
I'm not knocking Kissing Jessica Stein, which is a pleasant, if somewhat formulaic romantic comedy. The film stars Jennifer
Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, two actress/writers who met in 1996 and discovered they were addressing similar
themes in their work, namely "dating hell." They collaborated on what eventually became the the stage play Lipschtick.
Although it had a very brief run, the comedy attracted the attention of studios, and the pair embarked on writing a
screenplay. Having survived the development process at a major studio, Westfeldt and Juergensen decided to go the indie
film route.
Kissing Jessica Stein centers on Jessica (Westfeldt), a neurotic, habitually late, Jewish copy editor who can't seem to find
Mr. Right, much to the consternation of her mother (Tovah Feldshuh). When her brother announces his engagement, Jessica
feels worse. It doesn't help that her boss Josh Meyers (Scott Cohen) is a former college sweetheart, or that her
well-meaning, pregnant co-worker Joan (Jackie Hoffman) is always trying to fix her up. (We also get a parade of bad dates
endured by Jessica, including one guy who is clearly gay, another who speaks in malapropisms and another that is just plain
weird.) One day Joan reads a personal ad that includes a quote by Rilke, Jessica's favorite writer. Unfortunately, the notice
was placed by a woman, Helen Cooper (Juergensen), a downtown hipster used to juggling several men but who feels
unfulfilled. For some unknown reason, Jessica responds. She and Helen have an awkward first meeting, mostly because
Jessica is uncomfortable, but gradually the pair get to know one another and discover they have a lot in common. From
there, the film takes a slightly unpredictable route as the women negotiate their relationship.
The movie is amusing, with a number of clever lines and a sweet undertone. Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld steers the
proceedings with a sure hand and the two leads share a nice chemistry. Westfeldt is perfect as a bundle of nerves trying to
be open to all possibilities, while Juergensen complements her as the more adventurous partner. One can quibble about the
last act which causes the film not so much to end as to peter out. Still, as a breezy, mainstream romantic comedy, Kissing
Jessica Stein works.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.