Where’s the sex!?!
Ann Bishop (Andie MacDowell) and John Mullany (Peter Gallagher) are a married couple that may not get it on non-stop, but are relatively fine with it. She doesn’t really think sex is all that big of a deal, and he, well, is getting it anyway by her sister (Laura San Giacomo). However, all of their sexual desires and pleasures come to a-head once John’s old friend, Graham (James Spader), comes back to visit him and reveals a very strange, but interesting pleasure that not only has Ann curious, but her sister as well.
Reviewing movies like this are hard because not only do you have to take into account the fact that it’s a tad old and dated in some ways, but also the fact that creator/writer/director has done some far, far better material over the years and it’s just hard to compare now to then. In this case, yes, Steven Soderbergh has done far, far better ever since his 1989 directorial debut, but you got to hand it to the guy, cause he’s made a splash on cinema ever since.
And hey, it started off pretty well, too.
Where Sex, Lies and Videotapes probably surprises people the most is in that it’s much of a character-driven drama, than a sexually erotic thriller, in the same vein as Fatal Attraction. It all sounds like a bore, just listening as people convulse in a bunch of conversations about doing the dirty deed, but Soderbergh writes it in such a way that seems very honest, realistic, and actually understandable. People don’t just do sex to get off, and when they do, it’s usually to just get by something in their life that seems to bother them and whenever it’s to just have sex, usually it’s just because they’re horny at the specific time of day. However, people also act on sex as if it’s not something that’s meaningful, and not something that can wake you up from a lifetime full of slumber and stupidity. These characters all find that out in sometimes the hard way, the easy way, or sometimes the way that just cannot be explained.
It’s a very frank movie and while Soderbergh hasn’t really titillated audiences like this since, he still shows that sometimes, being naked, doesn’t mean having to take all of your clothes off for the world to see. Sometimes, being vulnerable and honesty is more than enough – something that Soderbergh has continued on with for his whole career.
But you can’t help but think that this isn’t Soderbergh’s best work and probably the least-flashy of all of his movies. When you watch a Soderbergh movie nowadays, you know it’s a Soderbergh movie just by the way it looks and feels. This one, not so much. Maybe it was probably because the guy was so darn young (26 at the time) and didn’t really develop a sense of style until the late 90’s, or the fact that he didn’t really want to focus on his look and wanted to focus more on his script, but it feels more like a regular, indie-movie from the 80’s that has a generic look, style, and despite the script-involved, a pretty generic feel to it all in the end as well.
But hey, it was ’89. He was young and just getting ready to shake the world up.
But really, these four in the cast is probably what helped Soderbergh achieve the most success here. Andie MacDowell has probably never been the heavy-hitter of an actress, but her performance here as Ann is probably the best she’s ever done, ever has done, and probably best she ever will have done for the rest of her career. What makes Ann so interesting is that you can sympathize with her because she seems troubled, sad, and in desperate need of a wake-up call that there’s a huge world out there to explore. But as soon as Graham enters the picture, things start to come alive for her and we see how MacDowell makes that pretty clear, but also very mysterious in how you never know if she’s going to go for something new and alive, or stay with something that’s old and boring. It’s the best that MacDowell has ever been and her character, Ann, just felt like somebody that’s easy to care for and want the best for when it was all over.
All of MacDowell’s scenes with James Spader absolutely were the best parts of the movie, because right from the start, you can tell something’s going on between them, without either of them really knowing. They have a spark between them that’s obvious and gets a bit skewered as time goes on, but keeps on coming back and back for more and kept me interested the whole way. Let’s also not forget to mention that James Spader seems to be having the freaking time of his life playing Graham, a character who is a bit strange, but also very real in how he deals with his world and his problems. You never know what’s up with this guy and whether or not he’s going to turn out to be the guy that kills dames in their showers, but you always are enticed by him, almost as much as Ann is and that’s a great-touch of character that Soderbergh allowed Spader to add.
Thank the lord for that, too.
And in all honesty, who better to play Ann’s asshole, slime-ball of a husband than Mr. Eyebrows himself, Peter Gallagher? Gallagher is very good at playing a guy that you don’t like, don’t trust, and have no sympathy for whatsoever, and I think that’s what the point of this character was to begin with. I do wish there was more development to this guy, other than just being a dude that listens to his penis more than his heart and why he’s boning his sister-in-law in the first place, but I guess it doesn’t matter when you have an actor like Gallagher than can make this character work, no matter what. Playing the sister-in-law he’s banging, Laura San Giacomo who is pretty dirty and juicy as the gal that seems to be very comfortable with her sexual-self and it’s a performance that kept me wondering if there was more to her than just a gal that likes to bang. Thankfully, there is and I think it’s something that Giacomo does very well. So at least both gals get development and one of the dudes does.
Guess that’s a victory?
Consensus: Perhaps not measuring up to the masterpieces Soderbergh would soon be making, Sex, Lies and Videotape shows a rather cool, insightful look at the lives of some sad individuals.