The movie swings from witty to poignant to sexy, without ever looking like it’s trying too hard (the “sexy ugly” conversation and the seduction in the restaurant are particularly memorable scenes), and the acting by both the principal and supporting cast members is generally excellent.
The two lead actresses (both heterosexual in real life) are convincing in their roles, although the character of Helen seems like two entirely different people (before and after she meets Jessica) to the point of being distracting. Ditto the male love interest, Josh, whose Mr. Sensitive, good-guy persona in the second half of the movie is a little hard to mesh with the tyrannical, unlikable character he is in the first half.
Also, the chemistry between Jessica and Josh seems a little forced, especially on her part, and the ending is a little too neat. It would have been better if the last few scenes had been set a year later, rather than after just three months have passed.
But these are minor flaws in a film that more than more than makes up for them with sharp, witty dialogue, good acting, and a compelling story.
The issues Kissing Jessica Stein raises about bisexuality make it especially significant, since as much as I complain about all the bad lesbian movies out there and the lack of lesbian visibility in mainstream movies, it’s even worse for bisexual visibility (unless you count the frequent evil/homicidal bisexuals that abound in mainstream films such as Basic Instinct, Diabolique, and Wild Things).
Chasing Amy is really the only mainstream successful movie that has tackled the subject, and although it did a pretty decent job of exploring some of the issues, it never used the word “bisexual” once in the entire film, and it focused more on the male experience of dating a bisexual woman.
Within lesbian movies, a few films such as Go Fish and Bar Girls have tried to address the subject of lesbian bi-phobia. But most either portray bisexuality as an avoidance/denial of lesbianism (as with the chracter of Maria in Everything Relative, who marries a guy because she can’t deal with being gay) or skip right over it entirely, so that a woman who was previously only involved with men for years is suddenly a lesbian who announces she was never really attracted to her boyfriend/husband in the first place (as in Claire of the Moon and Desert Hearts.)
Of course, many women don’t realize they are lesbians until later in life – but many also don’t realize they are bisexual until later, too, a fact which is conveniently ignored in lesbian films.
Kissing Jessica Stein is unique because it manages to generate positive images and discussion of bisexuality, and does so without boring or preaching to the viewer.
The key to experiencing this film, I realized after I watched it, is in how you approach it. If you want to, you can see this as a “lesbian movie” in which the women’s relationship fails because one of the women “goes back to men” (basically, just another illustration that bisexual women can’t be trusted). Or you can view it as justification of the idea that women like Jessica only dabble in women while waiting for the right man to sweep them off their feet.
I believe these are inaccurate readings of the movie, and really missing the point, but many lesbians and bisexual women will still choose to see it this way, anyway (especially if the many online message board rants are any indication).
But if you approach Kissing Jessica Stein as a mainstream movie that explores the sexuality-as-continuum theory, you are quite likely to find yourself watching a ground-breaking and entertaining film. Even if you don’t like the story this movie tells, at least it is contributing to the dialogue around sexual attraction and relationships between women.
And all without a single dead body.