I didn’t want to see Kissing Jessica Stein when I heard what it was about. I thought it was going to be just another movie about a woman who gets left for a man, and I’d had enough of mainstream entertainment’s preoccupation with this particular theme. It’s homophobic and sexist, it reinforces that old patriarchal saw that lesbians and bisexual women just need to find the right man, and most importantly, it’s boring.
To be fair, lesbians are also overly preoccupied with this scenario, using it as an excuse to espouse bi-phobic rhetoric and to assure each other that while they don’t necessarily have a problem with bisexuality per se, they themselves would never actually date a bisexual woman, lest she leave them for…oh the horror!…a man.
As if being left for a woman is so much better. But I digress.
Since some of my best friends (and ex-girlfriends) are bisexual women who are neither dishonest, easily seduced, nor just waiting around for Mr. Right, I find these attitudes offensive, silly, and just plain ignorant. Which is why I was reluctant to see a film that appeared to encourage this kind of thinking.
But I was stuck in a hotel room in Vegas with time to kill and there it was on Pay-Per-View, so I finally gave in and decided to watch it.
It turned out to be the best bet I made all weekend.
Kissing Jessica Stein chronicles the relationship between two women, one “straight” and one bi. Jessica (the straight one, played by Jennifer Westfeldt) answers a personals ad placed by Helen (Heather Juergensen) one day on a lark. The women meet and, to their surprise (and everyone around them), end up in a relationship.
Their relationship eventually hits the rocks when Helen realizes that Jessica’s not as into the sexual aspect of the relationship as she is. Along the way, however, the viewer is treated to a thoughtful, warm, and funny drama about the line between romance and friendship, and how difficult it is sometimes to draw it.
Jessica is the kind of woman few heterosexual people want to know about – the woman who is basically straight but has had the occasional dalliance with another woman. Jessica is seduced by the best-friend quality she finds in Helen that she has been unable to find with a man, and she mistakes fleeting moments of sexual attraction for the enduring kind. Ultimately, both women come to realize that Jessica is more attracted more to the idea of Helen than to Helen herself, and that they both deserve better than that.
Helen is the kind of woman few lesbians want to admit exists – she has primarily dated men in the past but is attracted to both men and women, and genuinely open to dating either. She is also smart, attractive, and likeable, with a penchant for pushing herself and others to take risks and explore new ideas.
As the relationship between the two women unfolds, they both explore universal issues such as what they really want in a relationship, what is fair to ask of the other person, and how family and friends figure into the equation.