When asked if he was interested in a Hollywood film dedicated to his life, the infamous Alfred Kinsey once said, “I couldn’t think of anything worse.” Well, folks, its 2004. Any influential historical figure can make for entertainment and happy Hollywood producers. (Case in point: this month’s Ray and the upcoming Alexander) With Kinsey, Writer/Director Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) has himself a good one. The film is part biography, part love story and all incredibly entertaining.
Kinsey follows the life of scientist Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) from his extremely troubled childhood through the publication of his book, “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” to his highly tragic decline. We find out a lot about Alfred Kinsey in the first few minutes of this film. Condon juxtaposes black and white scenes of Kinsey’s team conducting practice interviews on their favorite scientist with cutaways to Kinsey’s past. As the team proposes a questionnaire of sexual history including the dreaded, “How old were you when you first masturbated?” we are taken into a world of a boy with an unsupportive father (John Lithgow) who spent his days studying birds and insects in the forest. As the film continues, Condon presents an older Kinsey, this time a Biology professor at Indiana University whose love for the 1,250 species of gall wasps occupies most of his time. That is, until student Clara McMillen (Laura Linney) comes along. Now, Kinsey has been introduced to a new species: the female. The new Mr. and Mrs. Kinsey find the science in sex, and together discover the one area of study that has yet to be thoroughly researched. Knowing that it might cost him his job, Alfred Kinsey gathers a team of assistants, including student Clyde Martin (Peter Sarsgaard), to help him with his research on this hot topic… in more ways than one.
Kinsey brings awareness to the American ignorance of sex education, an issue that continues to be shunned today. In 2004, it is still “wrong” to talk about sex in public. Kudos to Condon’s story of a man who opened the doors to sex; doors that were once shut tight.
As political a topic sex is, it’s also incredibly humorous. Kinsey is jam-packed with one-liners that left me on the edge of my seat waiting for more. I couldn’t resist laughing out loud to, “Men don’t reach their sexual peak until age 40,” and “ Prostitutes are useless. They fake their orgasms.”
Up until the last half hour of Kinsey, I felt no attachment towards Neeson’s character, I just couldn’t connect. That is, until Kinsey’s unforeseen decline. With bad reviews on his women’s book and scandalous gossip spreading rapidly, as the American public quickly turned against Kinsey I found myself rooting for him.
As far as acting is concerned, Condon couldn’t have found a stronger cast if he tried. Even though released a bit early (most probably in an effort not to loose this gem in a sea of December blockbusters), Kinsey is bound for Oscar stardom. In the realm of supporting actors, there hasn’t been a more qualified contender this year than Peter Sarsgaard. Sarsgaard blows a dry and unemotional O’ Donnell out of the water as the elusive and sexually ambiguous Clyde Martin. With two superb performances this year in both Garden State and Kinsey, Sarsgaard deserves more than the Supporting Actor nomination, he deserves the gold. Laura Linney is also an Oscar contender with her heartfelt portrayal of Clara McMillen. In a heated scene where Kinsey confesses his extra-marital “research” encounter with Mr. Martin, Linney shines. Her on-screen relationship with Neeson, extending back to Love Actually and a production of “The Crucible”, has never been more captivating and real.
In Kinsey, it is the chemistry of love mixed with the science of sex that equals cinematic success. With an A-list cast, superb dialogue, and an enticing storyline, Kinsey scores big, pun intended.