Watching Jessica Stein

More than a decade after its release, I finally saw “Kissing Jessica Stein”, thanks to the wonders of streaming Netflix. I am still reeling from the sheer brilliance of this movie. Co-written by its two stars — Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt — this movie captures subtle shifts in emotions and relationship dynamics that I’ve rarely seen in films made in this country. It’s also incredibly clever and funny.

Like many romances, the film trades on a complicit pact with its audience, in that it posits a privileged universe in which the main characters (and we, the viewers) “get it”, in a world in which most people don’t. But in this case, this complicity plays out through sparkling wordplay reminiscent of the best of Preston Sturges. Yet unlike the old screwball comedies, this wordplay is delivered by believable and highly layered characters, as they travel through the complicated landscape of real relationships. And by relationships, I mean *all* the relationships on screen, including those between family, friends and coworkers.

The supporting cast is also awesome. Jackie Hoffman steals every scene she’s in, while Scott Cohen, in a very subtle performance, deepens the picture in surprising ways as a man trying desperately to hide his emotional vulnerability — not realizing that it’s his best asset. And it doesn’t hurt that Westfeldt deploys her personal WMD (weapon of mass distraction), Jon Hamm, with whom she’s been in a relationship since 1998. She later used Mr. Hamm to equally brilliant effect in her film “Ira and Abby”.

Why oh why don’t they make more movies like this?

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