You might expect a romantic comedy about a young woman exploring her bisexuality to be pretty non-traditional. But somehow, Kissing Jessica Stein stays on fairly familiar ground, despite exploring unfamiliar sexual roles.
Kissing Jessica Stein stars a cast of unknowns and little-knowns in the story of Jessica Stein, single, lonely, and unlucky with men. After a string of bad matches and a subsequent dating drought, quirky, high-strung Jessica answers a personal ad from a woman on a crazy whim. Though she has never had any interest in women before, she suddenly finds herself caught up in a romance she never expected, though she goes kicking and screaming the entire way.
Part of the problem here is that Jessica is straight. She really is. Which is why it's a little difficult to understand her motivation for getting involved with a woman. Experimentation is one thing, but we are somehow supposed to buy that she is "in love" with Helen despite the fact that she is uncomfortable with having a sexual relationship with her. In a way, this provides a fair amount of intentional comedy, so perhaps this lack of understanding serves a purpose. Yet it might have been nice to get a little better idea of what is going on in Jessica's head.
The character of Helen, her girlfriend, suffers from similar problems. We know Helen is a raging sex-a-holic, ready to jump just about anything, male or female. We know she desperately wants to explore a relationship with another woman. But beyond that, I was never quite sure why she was lesbo-ing around with Jessica to begin with. Apparently they fell "in love" but the film never really displays enough of the physical aspects of that relationship to really make it feel real. This is especially odd considering the incredible emphasis Helen places on physical love and attraction. It is difficult to believe that such a strong female character could settle for someone who didn't share that same need for physicality without some sort of justification to being with.
Yet, on the other hand, there is a certain degree of tactile familiarity to these characters. Though Jessica is a bundle of cliche movie quirks, it's surprisingly easy to slip into her shoes and see where she's going.. As a man, maybe I can't exactly identify with her extreme femininity, but there is little doubt that any woman could fail to. Frankly, Jessica and Helen seem every bit as puzzled by their relationship as we are, maybe that sexual confusion and frustration is just a little piece of the real world.
The film itself is entertaining and witty, even though it is occasionally a little slow. Maybe it lacks a little of the grandeur and excitement of traditional romance films, but then this isn't traditional. The more open minded women among us are bound to love it, and while a film about lesbians might sound like a winner with men as well, most will be sorely disappointed by the film's aversion to sexual displays of lesbian lovin.
Maybe had it been a little bolder in it's portrayal of the lifestyle that Jessica chooses, it might have been easier to buy in. Regardless, Kissing Jessica Stein is a well meaning and fun attempt to bring "alternative" lifestyles into more mainstream filmmaking.