Blu-ray Review: Kissing Jessica Stein (2001)

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Blu-ray Introduction:

To celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Fox Searchlight (the indie/art-house/foreign minded sister studio of titan 20th Century Fox), the company has been unveiling some long overdue high definition editions of their biggest word-of-mouth hits. A treat for film fans, the collection has included a breathtakingly crisp Blu-ray for Once and Garden State as well as anniversary editions of titles ranging from Napoleon Dynamite to Little Miss Sunshine.

Long absent from 1080p and released as a tie-in for LGBT pride month, Kissing Jessica Stein and MGM's box office smash The Birdcage have finally made their Blu-ray bows and their impact is well worth the wait.

Intriguingly, the last time I reviewed both titles was when MGM and Fox put them together along with several other thematically similar films in a fascinating Cinema Pride Collection that I was honored to cover as a straight advocate for equal rights.

Although the Blu-ray does contain the same exact bonus features offered on previous editions of Stein, as fans of the Jennifer Westfeldt/Heather Juergensen know, that's not exactly a bad thing since they're absolutely delightful.

For those in need of a refresher, these include more footage from Jessica's bad dates that wound up in the deleted scenes as well as two separate commentary tracks (one from the filmmakers and one from its affable screenwriter/stars that is vastly more winning), as well as a bonus featurette.

While the technical specs are quite good on the Blu-ray in both audio and video, I did notice that the flesh tones of the cast members shot in dim lighting and/or in the film's frequent night scenes of vibrant New York nightlife are occasionally dark (even on my 240 hz television configured to the brightest setting). It was noticeable enough that it caught the attention of a friend whom I was viewing Stein with, even though she'd be the first to admit that she's less than attuned to that sort of thing.

Admittedly given that it is an indie, this may have been due to a budgetary constraint in that they didn't have the right equipment to bounce light on the actors at times to keep them from fading into the scenery. And as such, luckily it's so minor when you consider that most of the time you're laughing through the scenes anyway so you're easily distracted to any of the film's tiny technical flaws.

In retrospect, I still think that Westfeldt made her definitive masterpiece as a screenwriter with Ira and Abby by not only acing her thesis but also losing some of the comedic "schtick" evident in this adaptation of the play Lipschtick. 

Nonetheless Kissing Jessica Stein is a post-millennium classic and one of the best modern day romantic comedies we've seen since we moved into the 21st century that we'll now enjoy for years to come thanks to newest release from Searchlight and sister company 20th Century Fox.

Original Review
(Published 6/22/10):

Described by Helen (Heather Juergensen) as the “Jewish Sandra Dee,” twenty-eight year old copyeditor and secretly aspiring painter Jessica Stein (Jennifer Westfeldt) initially reminds audience members of a “Jewish Annie Hall,” as the woman who her matchmaking mother reminds hasn’t dated in a year endures a series of bad dates with a wide variety of men from fellow gym enthusiasts to those overly picky about how to break up the dinner bill.

And even though she explains that she could never tell her therapist because it’s way too private, somehow, beat down way too much by horrible dates and mixed signals, Jessica answers a personal ad placed by another seemingly straight woman – Juergensen’s Helen – that uses a beautiful quote from Rainer Maria Rilke.

Walking towards and away from Helen repeatedly when they first meet as a freaked out Jessica tries to hail a cab, soon she surprises herself by her agreement to let the possibility of sharing a drink with Helen “marinate” for awhile until soon enough her baby steps lead her to begin tentatively dating the heterosexually promiscuous museum curator even though physical intimacy is something she still balks at much like the virginal Doris Day in old Rock Hudson sexless sex comedies.

Further complicating matters when her old college boyfriend and newspaper editor boss Josh (Scott Cohen) starts getting far more interested in her personal life to the point that he actually becomes nicer to her at work, Jessica finds herself in one confusing romantic comedy that sparkles with wit, appealing characters, and fresh conversation culled from Westfeldt and Juergensen’s original play Lipschtick upon which the film is based.

One of the first movies to digitally remove background images of the World Trade Center as tragically the quintessentially New York Woody Allenesque movie had its second film festival premiere playing on the day before and after 9/11/01 at the Toronto International Film Festival, the talented scribes’ inventive work helmed by Charles Herman-Wurmfeld still stands as a remarkably funny, unfailingly likable and surprisingly unique look at being single in the States.

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