Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989)


I know the poster makes it looks like he's a cross-dresser in this. It's ok. He's not.
I know the poster makes it looks like he's a cross-dresser in this. It's ok. He's not.

Genre: Drama

Starring: James Spader (Crash (1996) Secretary), Andie MacDowell (Groundhog DayFour Weddings and a Funeral

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh (Traffic Solaris (2002))

Overview: John is cheating on his wife Ann with her sister Cynthia. When John's old school friend, Graham, comes into town to visit, Graham's strange fetish rattles up their lives.

If you haven't yet seen Sex, Lies & Videotape, don't judge it by the usual parts Andie MacDowell has played. Light romantic comedies are not what this film is about. On the other hand, if you've seen either of the films I added next to James Spader's credit up top, you would be coming far closer to the kind of quirky perversion you can expect from him in this, Steven Soderbergh's very successful first feature film.
The story is about 4 people: John, a lawyer who has invited his old friend from school to stay with him for a week. Ann, John's wife who visits a therapist, who isn't interested in sex, and who isn't too thrilled about having someone in her house she wasn't even consulted about. There's Cynthia, Ann's very extroverted sister who is having an affair with John, and finally Graham, a mysterious, dark, arty type whose possessions include a car a duffel bag of clothes and a video camera. In short, the film is about sex, the lies around it, and the videotape that is Graham's obsession.  Subplots include John's dismissal of work in favour of humpy time with Cynthia, Cythia's deepening curiosity about who this Graham character is, and Ann's sexual inhibitions at odds with her fascination of Graham.
Admittedly, this was a huge hit, especially for a first feature, grossing in at $24 million from a million dollar budget, but today it may be a little dated. The first time I saw this in the early 90s, I found it slow. This second time around, the first half hour seemed like a contrived and expository introduction that didn't leave me wondering why my mind had purged it over a decade ago. Yet, as time went by, I became more interested in the nuance of the characters and was very pleased with was turned out to be a bold yet honest dramatic climax, one wonderfully played by James Spader.
Though the themes of insecurity, powerlessness and lies are well maintained throughout the film, Sex, Lies & Videotape is another one for the 'seen' pile, mostly because these ideas and the theme of voyeurism just don't excite me as much as I've seen in similarly themed films. 

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 7 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 76% (Not All That Sexy, But Don't Toss Out The Videotape)

When a film focuses on the characters and not on the visual aspect, those characters and their words need to be compelling to the audience, and though I wasn't overall disappointed,  I can only say 'not all films can be grand to everyone'. I went into this second viewing expecting myself to appreciate it more because my film eye was much more honed than it was 15 years ago, and I did. But I also found it nothing more than lukewarm in my appreciation of it.

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