"Kissing Jessica Stein" was originally concieved as a play by stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt. Reportedly, when the play became a success, the two bought the rights back and proceeded to go about translating the film to the screen. The result is a smart, funny and good-natured romantic comedy that is opened up quite nicely for a movie whose story originally debuted on the stage.
The adorable Westfeldt (who looks slightly like and acts a lot like Jennifer Aniston) stars as Jessica, a woman having a great deal of trouble with the dating scene in New York. While this ensures a montage of the kind of choices she faces is right around the corner, the scene still manages to be witty and amusing. Giving up on men, Jessica decides to try responding to a woman's personal ad - that woman would be Helen (Juergensen, equally cute - looking like Illeana Douglas), who works in an art gallery and likes both men and women.
Jessica is originally concerned that she's made a mistake when the two finally meet, but Helen manages a trick (slyly captured by the camera, which moves away, before returning to Helen's attempt) to keep Jessica from leaving. The two get to talking and eventually, Jessica decides that this relationship may be worth persuing - if slowly. Meanwhile, Jessica also has to contend with her Jewish mother (Tovah Feldshuh), who tries to push her towards several potential suitors, as well as her ex-boyfriend and boss (Scott Cohen), who still may have feelings for her.
Keeping the lightly-played situations from becoming too sitcom-ish are the two leads, who provide fine, natural performances. While Westfeldt plays neurotic a little too cutesy at times, she's often very funny. Juergensen's more confident character is a little more consistent and enjoyable. Still, both offer fine performances that kept the movie fresh and fun. Although situations in the film sometimes are awkward for the characters, I liked the fact that the movie had respect for the characters and never lingered on, or tried to create, comedic embarassment.
Several other little thoughts: the film's supporting characters are never terribly well-defined, with the focus on the two female leads. A little more development to some characters and a little less stereotypical feel to others may have helped out. The film's cinematography, by Lawrence Sher, manages to capture the New York scenery without taking the attention away from the characters. In other words, the film never stops to become a travel guide when little is happening. The film's pacing is quite nice; while the film is certainly never speedy, it moves along at a nice clip. The film is a little thin, but that's largely turned around towards the end, where the film explores Jessica's emotions in a bit greater detail. The ending, however, is a bit of an abrupt wrap-up.
Overall, "Kissing Jessica Stein" is a cute and charming little picture with fine performances. It's a slight movie, but it's still an entertaining one.
VIDEO: "Kissing Jessica Stein" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by 20th Century Fox. The picture quality is generally excellent, aside from a few very minor flaws. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher captures the New York scenery wonderfully, while managing to keep the focus on the characters. The picture can often have a slightly soft appearance, but never becomes hazy and remains fairly crisp.
The picture did show some slight concerns, but really never presented any major issues. Very slight grain and a few specks were seen, but the print seemed in excellent condition. Edge enhancement was absent from the proceedings, lending the picture a very natural and "film-like" appearance. Aside from one or two tiny traces, no pixelation was seen.
The film's natural color palette was well-reproduced here, appearing well-saturated and crisp, with no smearing or other faults. Flesh tones also remained natural and accurate. Overall, a very nice transfer.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a completely dialogue-driven comedy, though - there's little or nothing in the way of surround use. Even the music, which there's not much of throughout the picture, is largely delivered by the front speakers.
MENUS: Cute, light animated main menu that offers film-themed images and audio clips from the film.
Commentaries: I browsed through both of the DVD's commentaries: one including stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt and the other including director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld and cinematographer Lawrence Sher. Both tracks are very amusing and relaxed, with both duos offering plenty of little stories about the production and, in the case of the two writers, their trials and obstacles in trying to get the film produced. In the case of the writer and cinematographer, the two go into detail about what they think works in the film, but also provide a lot of analysis about what they may have done differently had they had a second chance.
Deleted Scenes: 7 deleted scenes and three sets of outtakes are included in this section, which also offers optional commentary from stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt.
Also: A cute on-the-street "making of" that lasts about 8 1/2 minutes, as well as the film's trailer.
Final Thoughts: "Kissing Jessica Stein" is a light (sometimes a bit too thin, but not terribly so) and witty romantic comedy that often boasts fine dialogue and good performances. Fox has provided a very nice DVD for "Jessica Stein" fans, with a lot of supplements and good audio/video. Recommended for fans, at least worth a rental for those interested.