Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Steven Soderbergh, 1989) is one of those earworm film titles that lodges in your head the very first time you hear it, whether you've seen the movie or not. The string of three apparently random nouns has been endlessly parodied, often by sources that have no business acknowledging the film's existence (I'm looking at you, Goof Troop). What makes this title so compelling? Is it the sex? Is it the lies? Is it, god forbid, the videotape? I don't know. All I know is that if a movie features a twentysomething James Spader and has "sex" right there in the title, I'm checking it out.

I like this screenshot because it looks like an excerpt from an infomercial for a new, improved vacuum cleaner.
The plot of Sex, Lies, and Videotape is celluloid-thin. Married couple Ann (Andie MacDowell) and John (Peter Gallagher) are the proud owners of a dead bedroom when John's school buddy Graham (James Spader) comes to town. Ann and Graham become increasingly intimate confidants; John doesn't notice because he's too busy banging Ann's sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) behind Ann's back. Graham soon confides to Ann that he's not only impotent, but that he gets his ya-yas out by filming women's sexual confessions. Before you can say "holy indie blockbuster, Batman!" Ann and Cynthia have both made tapes for Graham, inspiring both the voyeur and his subjects to reclaim their sexual agency. It's a happy ending for everyone but John, but you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs and he's a lawyer anyway.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape is genuinely about nothing but those three things, but it never stops being interesting, because it finds infinite new angles to examine its material from. Sex is simaltaneously John's affair with Cynthia, Ann's desire to finally experience an orgasm, and Graham's peeping-Tom tapes. "Lies" encompasses Cynthia's sisterly betrayal, John's infidelity, Graham's history as a complusive liar, Ann's feigned disgust at Graham's very "personal" video project. The videotape is both the tape-er and the tape-ees, and what happens when the tables are turned and Graham's camera is finally pointed his way.

Sex, Lies, and Videotape moves at a hypnotic crawl, but it becomes increasingly engrossing. Despite its self-consciously trashy-cute title, and despite its seedy subject matter, the film depicts its characters in a manner that is both respectful and truthful. There's not a false note in the performances or the directing. You may get impatient during the slower scenes, but it's worth it in the end. Oh, the sex. Oh, the lies. Oh, the videotape.

I think this was his Marlon Brando impression.
SCENE STEALER: Steven Brill provides some much-needed comic relief as a drunk in the joint Cynthia bartends, He has exactly three pickup lines and swaps them out, or occasionally mixes them up, as the situation requires. Looking at Brill's filomgraphy, he was also the dishwasher in Edward Scissorhands and the screenwriter for the Mighty Ducks movie. One might say that the early 90s were... Brill-iant.

Ba ha ha ha ha!

1 comment:

  1. Great film...brilliant performance by James Spader, and great performances by the rest of the cast!