KISSING JESSICA STEIN
directed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld with Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt opens March 22 at Guild 45
NEAR THE BEGINNING of this sassy N.Y.C.-set romantic comedy, unattached copy editor Jessica (Jennifer Westfeldt) endures her latest series of blind dates. While perfectionism is her greatest occupational strength, it prevents Jessica from finding anyone smart or challenging enough outside her cubicle. Her blind dates, unfortunately, employ English the way Bob Vila blows through two-by-fours. "I'm a self-defecating kind of guy," says one. For someone who digs Rilke and a large vocabulary, Jessica can only partially mask her horror.
On a whim, she answers a women-seeking-women ad that includes a favorite Rilke quote. Flustered and anxious, uptown Jessica meets the sexually adventurous Helen (Heather Juergensen), a cool, collected downtown girl. Over cocktails, they compare lipstick hues, clothes, and previous relationships. Jessica, the straitlaced girl from Westchester, lets her guard down and—whammo!--Helen plants one on her to see what she'll do. Back at work, Jessica begins to pine for Helen but tells herself that she isn't a lesbian. Or is she?
As the two women tentatively attempt to take things to the next level, they are constantly, hilariously derailed. (Don't get too excited; Stein is about as raunchy as Bridget Jones.) Jessica is a tease, says Helen, "the Jewish Sandra Dee," who wants to and then doesn't want to and suggests they wait. Filled with dread of being outed when she's not quite ready to admit her feelings for Helen, Jessica hides her new relationship from workmates and family. Helen understands at first, and then she doesn't. (And no, the catfights aren't going to get you hot, either.)
Likable Westfeldt and Juergensen assume their roles easily and with conviction. Stylish and quick-witted, the women exude chemistry in one scene and make like two Barbie dolls in need of Ken in the next. Their goofy romance follows the standard plotline for romantic comedy lite; problem is, Stein's girlie sweetness never makes Jessica's sexual-identity crisis convincing. Yet as our two heroines try to put a name to their connection, the point seems to be that people can find that spark where they'd least expect it. Straight, lesbian, bisexual—the labels don't much matter. But the sex sure does!