And kiss my essentialism

hooray for a film that dares to Challenge essentialist notions of sexual orientation

In a theatre filled with hard-to-please media types, I was the one guffawing and flirting with my date while others regarded the film Kissing Jessica Stein with suspicion. I could feel their wheels turning. Is it okay to like this film? It makes lesbians look bad.

Kissing Jessica Stein is a lesbian flick with a different audience in mind. Not men (yeah!) but not lesbians either. It’s a film about girl-on-girl love for straight, curious women. If you’re a dyke, you will recognize these women right away – the chronically single co-worker who corners you at the staff Xmas party to say she’s always been curious and gives you those big “take me away to your world” eyes.

Kissing Jessica Stein won my cynical heart simply by being hilarious and smart. Dare I say it blows stilted, cliché and overly ambitious films like Better Than Chocolate out of the water? I had the cutest girl in the place at my side, and I still paid attention to the movie. Based on the hugely successful New York play Lipshtick, the dialogue is sharp, the laughs keep coming and the characters are well-developed.

The film is written and produced by the two leads. Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeltd) is a struggling vocabulary-obsessed journalist who is fed up with being single, can’t sleep and nearing neurosis. Her best friend is pregnant and her sister’s getting married. Stein’s scanning the personal ads. Helen (played by striking actress Heather Juergensen) is a seductive bi-curious girl who’s trying her luck with ladies by writing up a personal ad.

Short story: They meet, start dating, figure out how to have “girl sex,” fall in love, move in together and at the end of the film, Helen realizes she is a dyke. Jessica realizes she is not. Seems pretty honest to me.

What makes the film a gem is how NYC it is. Westfeltd says she was excited to finally play a Jewish character because as she’s a “Jew from Scarsdale.” She makes Stein detailed and well rounded, so much so that we end up loving this neurotic, self-obsessed woman who is as far from clingy and desperate Ally McBeal as you can get.

The family dynamic is hilarious, in particular, Stein’s delightful mother (Tovah Felshuh).

The best friend, Joan (Jackie Hoffman), really steals the show with a sublime “friend discovering other friend is gay” scene.

So while queer critics may take shots for making it look like one can choose to be queer, I say hooray for a film that dares to challenge essentialist notions of sexual orientation.

It takes an innocent and sometimes earnest look at the possibilities of love without falling into the trap that other indie coming-out films often do: There is no obligatory fight with the father; no first-lover breaking her heart; no bashing; no preaching.


And it has awesomely revolutionary femme-on-femme flirting.

So grab your favourite ambiguously oriented co-worker, lend her a copy of Bi Any Other Name and have a date with Jessica. Who knows what will happen if your hands meet amongst the popped corn?

* Kissing Jessica Stein opens Wed, Mar 13 at the Varsity (55 Bloor St W) and other cinemas.

Read More About:
Culture, Power, TV & Film, Identity, Arts, Toronto

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