Feels better than it rates

I got to see a preview screening of this film, and fell in love. Maybe it's just been a while since I've seen anything on the big screen (several dozen reviews ago). The filmmakers do a good job of exploiting film techniques - depth of field, focus pull, and some good use of handheld shots. They did get a little heavy on the mirror shots, though, sometimes adding meaning with it, but as often simply being needlessly artsy.

Maybe it was Jessica Stein I fell in love with. She's this neurotic bundle of energy that has a way of not getting into relationships. As the overt plotline is set up in the first fifteen minutes, we get to know her very well. She's settled for a copyeditor job when she'd rather be painting. There's the Jewish mother pushing her to get a relationship. And when her brother gets engaged, it really hits home. She does want that certain someone in her life. How can you not feel for her?

Let me answer my own question by saying I've seen plenty of films with that same setup that didn't deliver. The main difference being that her feelings are genuinely communicated on the screen.

And her comes the plot gimmick - she finds what looks to be the perfect match for her in the personals - but under the "Women seeking women" section. And she's straight. Feeling particularly desperate, she arranges a meeting with Helen, who runs an art gallery. After missteps and false starts, the relationship unfolds, with a great amount of uncertainty for Jessica, and quite well portrayed by both actresses.

If you were wondering, we definitely have a comedy on our hands here. There's a lot to deal with on the dramatic side, and it's dealt with well, but the humor level hardly ever dips into serious except by necessity. And this is the best kind of humor, coming from character and situation. I'd go so far to say the dialog beats most mainstream fare for wit and originality.

Incidently, the two leads also wrote the screenplay. Now, it's not really the business of the audience at all to know where the story came from, but I can see how there'll be a certain amount of discussion leaving the theater along the lines of "Are they or aren't they?" Update: I've read that they do both have boyfriends, for those of you who were actually curious.

There are some flaws in the story. The character of Josh Meyers - Jessica's current boss and a college buddy of her brother's - seems rather peripheral, but he gets more screen time than he otherwise should, making it way too obvious he'll figure in importantly later on. That's the most glaring example where the focus on the main plot causes problems elsewhere. The sneaky thing about it is that we don't notice it until the story's over. We have a false ending, which is fine, and would have made an alright real ending, but less deep or interesting. The actual ending is very like something I would try to write, which I found troubling since I felt something missing or wrong about it. Some people will assuredly not like that actual ending on general principles (I'm trying not to spoil it here) and while I considered whether that was what I was suffering, it didn't take long to reject that theory. Of course, the various storylines are given some kind of resolution here, but it just feels a little hollow because it wasn't clear we were supposed to care about each of those plotlines. And further, the ending itself doesn't exactly reflect what the film is about - it's not far off, just a hair's breadth, but for this kind of story it's noticeable.

The film has a lot of potential, and don't get me wrong, I do like it. At best, we might just be seeing a studio influence in cutting the movie down and we're just missing some important scenes - then maybe there might be a director's cut DVD down the line. More likely, what we have is a screenplay that needed another draft or two.

UPDATE: I was fortunate enough to see a panel about this movie at an event in L.A. a couple months back (June 2002) - they had our two star/writers, the director, and two of the producers. I didn't write down a lot of notes, but the highlights include the fact that they spent a lot of time developing this, and it was originally a play, which evolved from simple frustrations with the dating scene, and through improvisations and rehearsals eventually became what we saw on screen. They also mentioned that they were able to make some scenes better in the editing process - maybe that involved losing some lines that would have explained the Josh plot better. If my review were fresh in my mind maybe I could have asked some specific questions, but it certainly was interesting to see them talk about making this film that I rather enjoyed.

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