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November 3, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | PaEHba Day | November 3, 2008 |

This is a romantic comedy like many others, only the premise is a little different: instead of boy-meets-girl it’s more of a girl-meets-girl-after-answering-an-ad-with-a-great-Rilke-quote kind of story. We have Jessica (played by Jennifer Westfeldt), the neurotic journalist with a passion for painting, and although the career person/artist thing is way overused in Hollywood (at least one character in every movie is either a photographer or… a photographer) it fits nicely into the plot of the film. Neglecting those artistic skills, whether it’s painting or writing, shows the fear and difficulty the characters have when it comes to dealing with their own happiness, and how it’s their responsibility to do something to achieve it.

Neuroses in a female character can be a hit or miss — mostly a miss — but Westfeldt manages to make it feel fresh and not like a Carrie Bradshaw extravaganza. Several elements contribute to her unquiet mind: she comes from a traditional Jewish family with a pushy mother (a terrific Tovah Feldshuh) who’s not afraid to set her daughter up with unattractive (both physically and intellectually) men; she has a boss who’s always reminding her what a mess she is, she’s a troubled sleeper, her best friend is pregnant and her brother is getting married. Jessica is just going on bad dates with awful, awful men, as we can see in the early minutes of the film. Sure, the blind date montage is gimmicky, but it’s not unendurable because great part of it rings true. Who hasn’t been on a date with a cheap guy?

We also have Helen Cooper (Heather Juergensen), an art curator juggling three very different men and with an itch to find something better. This time she decides to try things out with a girl. She takes an ad on a newspaper (“for friendship and more…” to attract all the bi-curious girls) and ends up on a date with Jessica, who wastes no time in telling her she’s not a lesbian. Helen manages to convince her to have a drink, and they end up going on a long date that ends with a kiss. The ten-minute-long scene is a joy to watch. It feels natural and a little ordinary but still special, as if you’re the one in the date, and you get to learn so much about both characters. Jessica is pessimistic and an extremist while Helen is free-spirited and open to accept any philosophy that will make people happy.

There’s more to Helen than being the horny art curator. So much more. At one point she’s seeing three men: one for when she’s hungry, the other one for when she’s bored, and the other one for when she’s horny. It is obvious that one man just won’t do for her so she tries to find what she’s looking for in several, but she’s still not happy. She enjoys sex and is very outspoken about it, but all it takes for her to turn into a teenager with a crush on that TV heartthrob with the crazy eyebrows is one call from Jessica. She stops what she’s doing, wipes her hands, fidgets … her mannerisms mirror those normal people have when they really like someone. Jessica and Helen get along wonderfully, but the only problem they have is their inability to consummate their relationship. Helen tries to be patient and does her best to respect Jessica’s reservations on the subject, which is an interesting change for her. Helen is used to be the one in charge; she dominates her relationships, and even though she’s more comfortable and better versed in the ways of lesbianism, her experience takes a back seat to Jessica’s fears.

The making-out scenes are pretty hilarious, mainly for the contrast between both characters’ approach to physical manifestations of attraction. Helen is natural about it while Jessica thinks in objectives. You just know she has pre-conceived goals for every date she’s going to have. First date: they’ll make out. Third date: they hit second base. She’ll ruin the moment by high-fiving Helen after a great kiss and will break an embrace to let her know no one can touch her stomach. Ever. Dating the Jewish Sandra Dee is no walk in the park.

They finally consummate their relationship, but Jessica clearly isn’t giving Helen what she needs. It is only towards the end of the second act that Jessica embraces their relationship. The sex part took some time to get used to, but coming out to her family, which in a way is like coming out to yourself, is a whole new ordeal. The girls break up and both are very affected. It hurts to watch them handle their pain because this isn’t a conventional love story. These are two women trying to find love with each other, and they couldn’t make it work. It seems to take Jessica by surprise that she cares so damn much, and she finds a solution in the last person she expected.

The coming out scene is beautifully crafted. Jessica doesn’t have to talk about what’s going on for her mother to understand her dilemma. Anyone who was raised in a religious family can dig in the other layers of that pivotal moment. Our parents still hold on to the traditions and beliefs we decided we could do without, and it produces a clash. They want to keep tradition alive and you want to make your own rules, and it’s hard for them to understand that you can be happy this way. So when your Jewish, Catholic, Christian, or Muslim parent tells you that he or she approves your same-sex relationship relief washes over you. They weren’t pushing you just for kicks after all. They want you to be happy. It is without a doubt the most touching scene of the movie, and Tovah Feldshuh is so perfect in it I couldn’t miss the opportunity to post it:

After this, Jessica and Helen are finally out and proud, and during the “lovely relationship” montage you stop wondering whether they’re really gay or just too lazy to go out and look for someone. After all, what could be easier than dating your best friend? All doubts and reservations you might have about their relationship vanish and for a minute you feel you’re watching just another rom-com… until the inevitable happens. A break-up, a new relationship and a chance meeting with the guy who just might be right for Jessica. He was there all along, and I know there’s nothing new about that idea, but the difference lies in how it was treated on this particular film.

There’s another painfully earnest scene that takes place right after Jessica comes out to her family and brings Helen to her brother’s wedding. Oblivious to the news, Josh Myers (Scott Cohen), Jessica’s annoying (in a very smart and sexy way) boss and college boyfriend, confesses his love for her. One of the many wonderful things about this scene is that we know Josh is a skilled writer (he’s referred to as The Next Hemingway) who has mad banter skills, yet his pledge comes out a bit clumsy and so incredibly human. I’ve heard of similar speeches happening in the real world, and seeing it on the big screen makes it so easy to relate to. You immediately forget what an asshole the guy was; he’s finally human. He tells Jessica in the simplest words that he wants to be the reason she’s so happy. And by the end of the film we’re led to believe that he might have a shot with her.

So Jessica wasn’t gay after all. But this movie is not about being gay or straight. It’s about finding what you need in a person and having the guts to pursue it, even if it turns out just OK, great, or the best thing that ever happened to you.

Sofía lives in Santiago, Chile with her biochemist/Catholic rock star father. She works in a private university and enjoys screenwriting, beer, men, sneakers, and making up silly theories that can fill her existential voids. You can read about her hits and misses in her Spanish blog and get a taste of her randomness in her English blog.

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PaEHba Day | November 3, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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