Kissing Jessica Stein
- Street Date:
- June 3rd, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Steven Cohen
- Review Date: 1
- June 26th, 2014
- Movie Release Year:
- 20th Century Fox
- 97 Minutes
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
"What do you do to be happy?"
"Nothing. I'm not."
Navigating the volatile dating world can be hard. Very hard. And finding the right person can seem downright impossible at times. So much so, that even an ostensibly heterosexual woman might consider expanding her search for love to... members of the same sex. At least, that's what happens in 'Kissing Jessica Stein.' A charming and occasionally insightful indie romcom, the flick presents a solid twist on the genre, tackling themes of happiness and identity with humor and sincerity. Some elements are a bit rough around the edges and a tad outdated, but the two leads share great chemistry and the script ultimately offers a well-rounded and fairly thoughtful examination of love and sexuality in The Big Apple.
Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) is an intelligent but neurotic copy editor living in New York. Reaching the end of her twenties, she longs to find a meaningful relationship, but keeps hitting dead ends in her dating pursuits. That is, until she stumbles upon a personal ad that seems like a perfect match. The only problem? The author of the ad, Helen (Heather Juergensen), happens to be a woman looking for women. Fed up with the lackluster men she's been dating, Jessica decides to meet her potential Mrs. Right, but can the two really have a romantic relationship?
Based on a play written by stars Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, the movie sees the duo take on writing, acting, and co-producing duties. Together, the pair lend the film a much-needed sense of personality and depth, helping to flesh out what could have been a one-note premise. Under the wrong hands, a plot dealing with two seemingly straight girls playing around with the idea of a same-sex relationship could come across as exploitative or even potentially offensive to the gay community. Thankfully, however, the writers make this clear dilemma a crucial part of the plot, examining the sometimes blurred line between love and sexuality -- all with a generous helping of awkward comedy.
On that note, the girls' coupling does not prove to be easy, and engaging in a sexual relationship doesn't just happen with the flip of a switch. Thanks to Jessica's rampant neuroses and hang-ups, it takes careful planning and even the aid of some helpful pamphlets! To this end, much of the film's comedy comes from the duo's attempts at igniting (and then hiding) their passions and from the heavy contrast between their personalities. On the one hand, Jessica is uptight and anxiety-ridden, and on the other, Helen is more of a free-spirit. Westfeldt and Juergensen are both great in their roles, and they bounce off of each other with ease. The former, in particular, does a great job of balancing Jessica's flaws. Though ultimately likeable, the character can be extremely picky and critical of other people, and the actress expresses her gradual growth well. Likewise, actor Scott Cohen turns in a solid performance as Jessica's boss and ex-boyfriend, Josh. While the man starts out as nothing more than a smarmy antagonist, more layers are revealed as the runtime goes on, fleshing him out in interesting ways.
Unfortunately, not all of the movie's attempts at humor and drama are as fresh as others, and there are some elements of the film that come across as outdated and generic. Though general observations about the dating world do lead to a few solid laughs, a lot of these insights feel very familiar and a bit rough around the edges. This is especially true of an early montage of terrible dates and a later metaphor involving lipstick which isn't exactly subtle. And while two previously straight women deciding to experiment with a sexual relationship might have been an original and even risque premise back in 2001, the concept has lost a lot of its luster. Thankfully, the majority of the runtime does end up working, and the movie even sneaks in a few genuinely worthwhile ideas and dramatic turns related to the search for happiness.
'Kissing Jessica Stein' isn't exactly groundbreaking or terribly memorable, but Westfeld and Juergensen offer a pretty effective spin on usual romcom conventions, giving audiences an honest and funny peek into the confusing struggles of love and sex from a female perspective. While the premise isn't as original as it once was, the cast is strong and the film is ultimately enjoyable without ever simplifying its complicated subject matter (too much). Sparks might not ignite immediately, but fans of Woody Allen style romantic comedies will likely want to slap on some lip balm and give Jessica Stein a chance.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'Kissing Jessica Stein' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. After some warnings and logos, the screen transitions to a standard menu. The release is region A coded.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Though serviceable, the video is clearly sourced from an outdated master and offers a decidedly lackluster presentation.
The print is in solid condition, but there are some minor specks here and there. Grain is visible but often has a fuzzy and noisy appearance. The overall image has a predominately soft and flat quality that lacks much in the way of fine detail and dimension. Wide shots are especially indistinct and there are times when the transfer looks more like a high quality upconvert than a true HD picture. Likewise, colors looks a bit faded and with the exception of some red wardrobe choices and set decorations, there is little in the way of pop. Contrast is decent, but black levels veer toward gray. Edge enhancement is also visible around actors and objects in several shots, and the transfer has a faintly processed look to it.
Though some of the video's underwhelming qualities are likely inherent to the film's modest low budget roots, there are clear signs that the transfer has been sourced from a disappointingly outdated master.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. There really isn't much to this mix, but speech is the main priority here and it comes through well.
This is a dialogue driven film, and thankfully all of the conversations are preserved nicely, though some speech can sound a little thin. The rest of the mix is very restrained and the soundscape has a comparatively tiny and flat sense of space with only minimal ambiance (office sounds, traffic, etc) and directionality. Likewise, surround use is negligible, though there are some very faint atmospheric effects in the rears. On the other hand, the movie's score and song selections sound quite good, offering pleasing range and separation. Thankfully, there are no crackles, pops, or hissing.
'Kissing Jessica Stein' has a very suitable but unimpressive mix. The track serves the flick's low budge romcom sensibilities but offers only a minimal sense of immersion and atmosphere.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
20th Century Fox has put together a solid collection of supplements, including deleted scenes, a featurette and two commentaries. All of the supplements are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.
- Commentary by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and Lawrence Sher – The pair provide details on locations, the movie's shooting style, sets, cameos from the crew, how they went about accomplishing shots, and how they dealt with their low budget. Heavy on the logistics and technical aspects of indie filmmaking, this is an informative track that aspiring filmmakers might want to check out.
- Commentary by Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt – The film's stars/writers offer commentary on this track. The duo seem excited to be discussing their film and talk about the story's origins as a play, the cast, changes from the script, inspirations for the plot and characters, the movie's examination of sexuality, their writing process, and challenges they faced during the shoot. There is some repeated information from the previous track, but there are some solid bits of trivia and new anecdotes here as well.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 25 min) – Ten deleted scenes are viewable separately or together and with or without commentary from Juergensen and Westefeldt. We get more bits and outtakes from the dating montage, a well written break up scene with the great James Urbaniak, and several more odds and ends from the wedding along with a few funny outtakes from the actress who plays Grandma Esther. These scenes are all funny on their own, but were wisely cut to help the pace.
- Featurette (HD, 9 min) – Here we get interviews with Westefeldt and Juergensen as they return to the theater where the play originated and travel to a few locations from the shoot. The pair discuss the evolution of the project and characters, and while this piece veers toward promotional fluff, there are some decent insights.
- Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 min) – The movie's trailer is included.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
There are no HD exclusives.
'Kissing Jessica Stein' is an amusing and occasionally insightful romantic comedy. Some aspects aren't as original or refined as they could be, but the movie is genuinely funny and its examination of happiness, love, and sexuality is worthwhile. Sadly, the video transfer is clearly from an outdated source, and while serviceable, the results are very mediocre. The audio mix suits the modest content well, but isn't terribly immersive. On the upside, we do get two worthwhile commentaries and some amusing deleted scenes. From a technical perspective, this isn't the strongest disc, but the film itself and supplements are very solid. Worth a look.
- BD-50 Disc
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD MA 5.1
- Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0
- French Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH, Spanish
- Two Audio Commentaries
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
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