kissing jessica stein

Think “Sex in The City” meets Woody Allen. Here Jessica, a neurotic, bookish New York Jew, looks for love in all the wrong places, until she responds to a personal ad from Helen, a voracious man-eater. Superficially, the film explores the notion of a sexual continuum. After all both Helen and Jessica are “straight”. Or are they? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of laughs as Jessica avoids telling anyone about her new love, and grapples with the idea of S-E-X. Full of sharp dialogue, and an assortment of witty and amusing characters, including a standout Jewish mother that I dare you to say “No” to. [us, 2002]

wonderland

This scruffy glimpse of London working class life finds beauty in the ordinary. Wonderland centres on three working class sisters who stumble along seeking fulfillment. One hopes for love, the other wants stability, the third craves pleasure. Circling around their lives are children, ex-husbands, estranged siblings, one-night stands, future lovers, bickering parents, and barking dogs. It’s poignant and realistic without being grim. And the cinematography makes wet city traffic look better than all the sweeping velds in Africa. [uk, 2000]

ghost world

Thora Birch, the rebellious daughter from American Beauty gives smart, misfit teens another shot of cool. As Enid, she struts through a year of post-high school cynicism decked in yard-sale apparel aiming barbs at big business and the dim-witted. She also struggles through a relationship with her best friend, sparks an odd liaison with a bookish 40-ish record collector, grapples with remedial art school, and fails hilariously at working. Like its protagonist, the film is snarky on the surface, but down deep, it’s the real thing. [us, 2001]

rachel, rachel

Joanne Woodward stars in this Paul Newman-directed indie film about a repressed small-town schoolteacher. Rachel is nagged by her lonely mother while she’s haunted by memories of her kind but aloof undertaker father. She’s resigned to her lonely existence until a series of events including a Christian revival meeting and a chance encounter with a childhood friend shock her out of her complacency. Well-acted. Well-shot. A small gem. [us, 1968]

parsley days

This quirky look at 20-something life begins where most movies end: with the perfect relationship. Here, secretly pregnant Kate, a bike mechanic, is living with Ollie, a man so endearing her lesbian friends claim he’s a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. The movie follows Kate as she struggles over whether to breakup with Ollie, while simultaneously attempting to induce abortion by eating massive amounts of parsley. Kate is surrounded by neat friends, a herbalist, a performance artist, a pair of 70-something lovebirds, and a lot of bicycle enthusiasts. And like any good Canadian movie, the canoe is a character unto itself. [canada, 2001]

state & main

Rebecca Pidgeon (AKA Mrs David Mamet) makes the already amusing send-up of a sleazy Hollywood crew filming in small town Vermont that much funnier. As the town’s eccentric used bookstore owner and local theatre whizkid, the brainy, practical, and unfettered Annie is always three steps ahead of the game. Confident and slightly kooky, she provides the film’s moral center and saves at least one soul from Hollywood purgatory when she steers a desperately confused screenwriter towards the second chance he so richly needs. [us, 2000]

next stop wonderland

Maybe it’s the samba soundtrack. Maybe it’s the melancholic sweetness of its lead character. Either way, it’s a nice “alone at home without a date movie” (silly Mafia subplot notwithstanding). A single twentysomething woman’s over-zealous mother places a personal ad in the paper for her daughter Erin. Erin, who is smart, well read and emotionally balanced, winds up dating a string of losers. She corrects their misquotes and blows holes in their vapid philosophies until she meets…ah go on, rent it and find out. [us, 1998]

safe

Julianne Moore plays a listless housewife who has it all. Problem is she’s allergic to it all…the sleek furniture, the manicured garden, the jammed freeway, and the dead relationship. Her pursuit for a cure to chemical overload acts as a terrifying symbol for the emotional distress, anxiety, anger, and spiritual vacancy of urban life. Moore plays her soul-deadened housewife with sensitivity and restraint, which makes her journey into the heart of mental toxic darkness all the more eerie. [us, 1995]

boys don’t cry

Pain spills off the screen in this tragic depiction of a boy trapped in a girl’s body. Hilary Swank nabbed an Oscar for her ingenuous high-wire act as boy-girl Teena Brandon, and Chloe Sevigny dazzles as the fierce lover who yearns to escape her no-way-out life. It’s a bleak portrait of trailer park desperation, and yet it avoids the cheap characters typical of White Trash movies. All the players, from the boozing mom right down to the wounded creeps who commit their brutal acts, are acutely drawn. Intense, graphic, sharply shot, and unforgettable. [us, 1999]

suspicious river

Molly Parker gives another eerie performance for Canadian director Lynne Stopkewich (Kissed). This time she’s as a small-town girl who’s fresh complexion belies her shattered inside. In a tale worthy of David Lynch, Molly plays a squeaky clean married gal who works the front desk of the local motel while turning rough tricks in the ragged bedrooms. It’s not long before a sadistic but charismatic creep is guiding her towards her inevitable soul-crushing destruction. Tough to take. [canada, 2000]