[MOVIE REVIEW]A harried girl considers 'Kissing' boys goodbye

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[MOVIE REVIEW]A harried girl considers 'Kissing' boys goodbye

Jessica Stein, the prissy, uptight heroine of the movie's title, suffers from that all-too-common disease: single-itis.

Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) is 28 years old and pretty enough, but prospects are looking pretty dim. "Kissing Jessica Stein" quickly sets up the dilemma -- wait for the Mr. Right versus getting your overbearing family off your back -- as Jessica's mother and grandmother badger her about potential dates while in the middle of synagogue service. "Will you shut up?! I'm atoning!" she tells them, a little too loudly.

A montage of the variety of goons, losers, nerds and perverts she meets, all in the name of the mating/dating ritual, depicts just how helpless her situation is.

Her ex from college (now her boss at a newspaper) devastates her over coffee with his analysis of her problems -- "The problem is you."

Then one day, a co-worker reads a personal ad in the Village Voice that makes a reference to Rilke, Jessica's favorite writer. Unfortunately for Jessica, it turns out that ad is from a woman.

Or not so unfortunately. Jessica is intrigued, and soon sets up a date with the vigorously bisexual Helen (Heather Juergensen).

Helen is as open-minded and carefree as Jessica is not, but after a couple of false starts, the two of them hit it off.

Which leads to some serious issues for Jessica. If she was highly strung to begin with, sexuality is enough to snap her like a cheap guitar string.

Her response, as always, is to control the relationship. She tackles lesbianism with all the adventure and passion of a janitor at a fast-food restaurant.

Which brings us to the heart of this movie. Will Jessica learn to accept who she is? Will Jessica even figure out who she is? In fact, is Jessica anything at all?

"Kissing Jessica Stein" presents a wide variety of viewpoints without seeming preachy or pedantic, coming down by default on the side of open-mindedness.

If it isn't preachy, that's in large part because "Kissing" simply isn't that deep a film. It's light and fun, and despite whatever twists and turns along the way, it never descends into the morbid or depressing.

Charles Herman-Wurmfeld directs "Kissing" adequately, with a few tricks here and there, but his style is hardly overwhelming. Which is fine, and it suits the story well.

The actors are similarly straight-forward (sorry), and for all of their neuroses and issues, everyone seems incredibly, refreshingly normal.

With all the heart wrenching turmoil that usually accompanies gay issues in movies, it's a relief to be reminded that they can also be funny. Sure, "Kissing Jessica Stein" is a lightweight film, but it's always respectful of its characters and issues, while remaining definitely laugh-out-loud funny.

by Mark Russell

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