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Kissing Jessica Stein

  Kissing Jessica Stein
Chasing Jessica: Heather Juergensen puts the moves on Jennifer Westfeldt.

© 2002, Fox Searchlight
All Rights Reserved

When actors Ben Affleck and Matt Damon found the acting road blocked to them, they decided to turn to themselves and write a script that would allow both of them to star. The result was "Good Will Hunting," an Academy Award winner, and a film I would consider to be a modern day classic. Traveling down the same road are actresses Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen, and their collaboration is the new comedy "Kissing Jessica Stein" (IMDb listing). While the two aren't going after the same Oscar gold as Damon and Affleck, what they are trying to achieve—a cross between Woody Allen neuroses and some "Chasing Amy"-style sexual-preference pole vaulting—is a film that would only appeal to the duo, not the general public.

Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt), a copy editor at a New York paper, is unlucky in love. 28 years old and facing her younger brother's upcoming marriage, she desperately wants to find love in the big city. By accident, Jessica spies a "woman seeking woman" personal ad that tickles her fancy and answers it. Enter Helen (Heather Juergensen), a bisexual art gallery manager who has had an equally hard time on the dating scene. When Jessica and Helen meet, they form an instant friendship, but when Helen wants to take thing further, Jessica must confront her own sexuality, her family, and an old boyfriend (Scott Cohen, "Gilmore Girls") who is having second thoughts about their breakup.

"Kissing Jessica Stein" is a film about sexual identity and loyalty. It's about how to maintain a friendship in the face of love, and how to openly love another person without fear. It's also another film set in New York City that strip mines every little NYC cliché known to man. As if this city hasn't been photographed enough, here comes "Stein" with the cosmopolitans, $40 salads, ultra-cutsey occupations, arrogant men quoting Anais Nin, the Broadway standard soundtrack, and cutaways to the skyline after every scene. It's so tiring to return to this location (along with Los Angeles) with every other film, and "Stein" trumps itself by reveling in the sights and smells that have been so incessantly recorded elsewhere, and by better filmmakers. Hell, "Sex And The City" covers this weekly! I hate to break it to the production, but New York City just isn't the cultural Mecca it once was, and if they would've rethought the location (why not Scottsdale, AZ or Orlando?), "Stein" could've taken the focus off the locales and put it back where it belongs: the story.

Yes, Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen have written themselves some fine parts. And in fact, their parts are so proficient they accomplish what they set out to do—create a forum to show off some significant talent. Both leads have an impressive amount of charm between them, and an even better reserve of drama for the heavier moments. Especially Jennifer Westfeldt, who shows off fine lead qualities that could give many of today's top young actresses a run for their money. But in their quest for juicier parts, they neglect to infuse the rest of the piece with the same kind of allure. "Stein" comes off pretentious and witless when it wants to be hilarious and enchanting. The rest of the cast is peppered with lukewarm, hackneyed characters (the artist who doesn't realize his potential, the male homosexual best friend, the Jewish mother, etc.), and not the kind of human personalities that would help to make this fluffy confection even the slightest bit emotionally involving.

I'm being tough, but as first-time-produced scripts go, I find it hard to believe that Jennifer Westfeldt and Heather Juergensen didn't know any better when writing this scenario. There are just too many recognizable qualities in "Kissing Jessica Stein" that have been more distinctly drawn in other pictures. It frustrates me that this writing team would be so satisfied with just another humdrum New York romancer. For two working, Hollywood actresses, Westfeldt and Juergensen sure don't see a lot of movies.

Filmfodder Grade: D

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