just a kiss (2002)


director: fisher stevens

kyra sedgwick, marisa tomei, patrick breen, taye diggs

The sexually insecure lives of unmarried urbanites is a wobbly peg to hang a movie on, but director Fisher Stevens seems to think that this world of anxious, clueless, mercenary behaviour can be rendered charming with a bit of computer animation and a lot of overwritten plot twists.

Shot on digital video, and with a cast that includes Marisa Tomei, Kyra Sedgwick and Taye Diggs, Stevens has - whether he knows it or not - made the world's most ambitious graduate year student film. Anyone who has had to sit through end-of-year film school screenings will recognize the genre - an archly scripted fugue based on the sexually anxious couplings of their friends, shot in the apartments and cafes where they live and hang out. While it's reasonable to expect that young folks just out of college might be domestically challenged, Stevens' cast are all in their thirties, and their emotional obtuseness feels pathetic and overstated.

Collegiate gags abound - one character is named after onetime UN Secretary Dag Hammerskjold, and every time he introduced himself ("Dag, not Dog"), valuable screentime is spent plumbing this depthless, deeply unfunny gag. Maria Tomei plays a psychotically vengeful nymphomaniac with the conviction you'd expect from an Oscar-winning actor, but the role is less of a human being than a plot motivator, useful in a basically plotless film if only to move things forward when the other characters begin spinning in circles.

Every now and then scenes, or parts of shots, will suddenly squirm and morph into crude but colourful animation, vaguely styled after Richard Linklater's Waking Life, but the effect is just that - an effect, with scant dramatic logic except to goose a connection into place, or give a "magical" aura to yet another tawdry scene of youthful romantic terrorism. Just A Kiss tries everything short of bribery to charm, but the overwhelming result for anyone past a certain age is gratitude for the dull, plodding predictability of maturity.