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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Kissing Jessica Stein (2002)

Josh: Feeling a little jumpy today, Stein? You got a hot date?
Jessica: No.
Josh: Who's the guy?
Jessica: There's no guy.
Josh: Aw, come on, you're a terrible, terrible liar.
Jessica: Trust me, there's no guy.

- Scott Cohen, Jennifer Westfeldt

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: September 01, 2002

Stars: Jennifer Westfeldt, Heather Juergensen
Other Stars: Scott Cohen, Jackie Hoffman, Tovah Feldshuh
Director: Charles Herman-Wurmfeld

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: R for language and sexual content
Run Time: 01h:36m:38s
Release Date: September 17, 2002
UPC: 024543050438
Genre: romantic comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ AB+B+ B+

DVD Review

The setup for Kissing Jessica Stein sounds like something you'd see on a sit-com. Uptight, unhappy girl explores sexuality by deciding to try going gay. Credit, then, goes to co-writers Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen (working from their Off-Broadway play; the two also co-star) for turning a familiar concept into a surprisingly moving, frequently hilarious romantic comedy, and the best exploration of sexual and gender roles since Chasing Amy.

Westfeldt is Jessica Stein, a neurotic intellectual in her late 20s, her ambitions to paint stifled by her deadend job as a copywriter for the New York Tribune. She's single and desperate to find her perfect match, if only to quiet her perpetually doting, concerned mother (Tovah Feldshuh, in a scene stealing performance), who doesn't even let synagogue stop her from offering her daughter unwanted dating advice ("Shut up, mother, I'm atoning!"). The problem is that she's a hopeless perfectionist, and something as simple as a misspoken phrase is enough to draw her ire.

She finds herself intrigued by a particularly erudite ad in the personals section, and, though she has never given her sexuality a second thought, the women-seeking-women header does little to dissuade her from meeting Helen (Heather Juergensen), a sometimes-lesbian art gallery employee who is embarking on her own sexual experiment.

The women click instantly, drawn together by a love of Rilke and a hatred of bad grammar. When things turn to kissing and sex, it's nothing new for Helen, who has had relationships with women before. But Jessica is unable to cope with her newfound happiness, especially when it comes to sex ("This isn't me! I'm a Jew from Scarsdale!"), arriving at the couple's first date with a stack of pamphlets on lesbianism. Her fast-talking neurosis recalls the "la di da" flutterings of Annie Hall in more ways than one; in addition to her penchant for nervous verbosity, Jessica has a similar aversion to successful, healthy relationships.

Indeed, the influence of Woody Allen is keenly felt throughout. All of the characters have the qualities Allen loves—they're uptight, Jewish New Yorkers who are so wrapped up in finding happiness they end up missing it when it comes along—and the city itself provides a majestic backdrop for a story so New York it could happen nowhere else, captured by director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and DP Larry Sher with warmth, elegance, and a refreshing looseness in the frequent use of handheld cameras.

What's interesting about Kissing Jessica Stein is the treatment of sexuality as a choice. Helen is bisexual and chooses her partners at a whim. Jessica, on the other hand, is straight, and simply chooses to be with someone who will make her happy (whether she can let herself be happy or not). The two principles are remarkably at ease with their characters, falling into the rhythms of a relationship quickly and realistically, and then falling out again with the same painful honesty. It's not a sex comedy, but a romance; it's just that the leads happen to be women.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Though it reveals some of the film's low budget roots, this anamorphic widescreen transfer of Kissing Jessica Stein serves the picture very well, preserving its rich colors and warm interiors. Colors are strong without ever appearing oversaturated and black level is likewise excellent. I noticed no film grain or print flaws, but did see some aliasing on a few shots of the New York cityscape and in some complex patterns during the scenes shot with handheld, moving cameras. Still, overall, another wonderful transfer from Fox.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Romantic comedy soundtracks usually don't feature much in the way of an immersive soundtrack, and the low-budget ones are usually the least impressive. Kissing Jessica Stein is actually pretty surprising in this regard. The mix never features a lot of reference quality surround use, but the 5.1 track is nicely atmospheric, with the surrounds providing great support during musical interludes and pleasing ambient sound during the New York exterior scenes. The front soundstage is very good as well, with dialogue clearly anchored in the center channel with no apparent ADR, and frequent subtle directionality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
9 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and cinematographer Lawrence Sher; actors and co-writers Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:56m:25s

Extra Extras:
  1. Outtakes
Extras Review: 20th Century Fox is a studio that can usually be counted on to provide wonderful supplemental material, even for its smallest films. Kissing Jessica Stein's status as an independent production certainly hasn't limited the amount of bonus materials available on the DVD.

First up are two commentary tracks, and both are really quite excellent. Director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and cinematographer Lawrence Sher chat throughout the first, offering detailed information on everything from location selection, to editing, to working with the actors, to which of their relatives and friends are playing the smaller roles. Both also are refreshingly candid, highlighting scenes that they don't like or don't think work as well as they should. Equally engaging is the track from co-writers/co-stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt. The ladies bring a bit more humor to their track as they discuss primarily the writing and acting process, as well as some changes that were necessary as the story moved from the stage to the screen.

Nine deleted scenes are offered with optional commentary from Juergensen and Westfeldt. More often than not, I find that deleted scenes aren't even worth watching, but I actually enjoyed the majority of those presented here. In particular, Boat Scene offers an affecting monologue from Westfeldt, who delivers several pages of material with perfect pitch and rising emotion, but the scene was deemed too theatrical and cut. Its inclusion, along with eight other interesting excised segments, is appreciated. The optional commentary here is definitely worth a listen, as the two clearly explain each and every cut. Also included in the deleted scenes section are a few minutes of outtakes and humorous flubs, again with optional commentary.

An eight-minute featurette offers fairly typical behind-the-scenes information interspersed with far too many bland interviews and film clips. There is some decent footage of the stars leading a camera crew around their shooting locations in New York, but this segment is something you'll only want to watch once. Closing out the disc is the amusing theatrical trailer, which succeeds is giving away a few of the biggest laughs.

A grade of B+ might seem a little high for a few commentary tracks and some deleted scenes, but the quality of the material more than makes up for a lack in volume.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Kissing Jessica Stein feels like a film Woody Allen might have written; it's also better than anything he's produced in recent years. It delivers humor, heart, and a subtle critique of so-called "modern" views on sexuality and orientation. It's also one of the best films of the year.

 


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