KISSING JESSICA STEIN directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, written by Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt, based on their play Lipschtick, produced by Eden H. Wurmfeld and Brad Zions, with Juergensen, Westfeldt, Scott Cohen, Jackie Hoffman and Tovah Feldshuh. 96 minutes. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. Opens Friday (March 8). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 76. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
jennifer westfeldt and heather Juergensen aren't lesbians -- they just play them in a movie. The New York performers wrote, co-produced and star in Kissing Jessica Stein (see review, page 76), a witty indie comedy about two women whose disappointments with men push them to try dating women.This is a movie that could have failed miserably, insulting dyke audiences with its lesbian-chic ambitions. But it works, mainly because Westfeldt and Juergensen are so deeply committed to their characters.
They began with a skit: two Laura Ashley types meet to discuss the idea of becoming lesbians.
The skit grew into a play, Lipschtick, and then a movie.
It took four years to make, and is only seeing the inside of theatres because Westfeldt and Juergensen abandoned the Hollywood studio that had originally bought the rights to the play and produced it themselves.
"We wanted it out in the world," says Juergensen, who plays Helen, the sexually adventurous art gallery owner who places the personal ad that attracts the very nervous Jessica Stein (Westfeldt). "The zeitgeist was right, and we wanted to control the creative decisions. We'd be in charge of that process, and no matter how hard it would be to raise the money, we'd somehow get it done."
The chatty Juergensen and Westfeldt stopped by Toronto for interviews and to introduce their film at an Inside Out Lesbian & Gay Film Festival benefit screening, where they were somewhat taken aback at having their queer politics questioned by the gay audience.
"It was a little uncomfortable," admits Westfeldt. "But what we're saying with the film is that for some women being gay is a black-and-white fact and for others it's something they explore at one time or another in their life. Sexuality is on a continuum, and we wanted to look at it from different angles.
"But in the end, the film is about Jessica breaking down her own stereotypes, about how she paints herself in the world. By opening herself up, she finds a great deal of happiness, and whether or not it's a lasting thing is for her to discover."
That's the point of the movie, that love may arrive in a surprising package, and you shouldn't be afraid to open it. ALSO OPENING: TIME MACHINE For details, see reviews,movie interview