Friday, September 18, 2015

Movie Review: Sex, Lies and Videotape

Writing about Something, Anything yesterday got me to thinking about another middle class angst movie Sex, Lies and Videotape which is available for viewing now on Crackle. It came out in 1989 and was Steven Soderbergh's big breakout in Hollywood as he wrote and directed it. I watched it last night for the first time in 26 years so I could write something about it today.

In many ways it is a classic angst movie. The big difference here is that we have four characters instead of one. Each one is dealing with their angst in different ways. You have John Mullany who is a successful lawyer and is obviously having some problems dealing with his anxieties by essentially ignoring them. You have Ann Bishop Mullany, John's wife, who is dealing with her anxieties by going to therapy where she doesn't really open up about anything real. You have Cynthia Bishop, Ann's sister and John's lover, who is dealing with her anxiety by simply taking on the persona that she's cool and above it all. Then you have the catalyst character Graham Dalton who has dealt with his anxiety in a very odd manner.  Graham has become reclusive and closed himself off from all intimacy.

When Graham enters the scene all of the other characters seem rather content to keep existing as they have. Essentially hiding their angst under a rock of bad choices. Graham though enters the scene and Ann for the first time, sees someone who has let their anxieties completely overwhelm them. She seems to suddenly become aware of her real issues and begins to look at her life and the lives of those around her in a different light. So in this way the story takes a classic angst story arc. We have a primary character who suddenly starts to see the world around them differently. The trick is Graham also seems to have this same affect on Ann's sister Cynthia.  While Ann seems to be looking hard at the people around her and where she fits in and how she has been too weak for too long, Cynthia seems to be looking more at herself. She begins to see how her choices are affecting others.

This of course leaves us with our two male characters. Graham in many ways is a non-character, character. He is merely the catalyst to help the other characters further their stories. And so Graham is a guy who is left in many ways a mystery to us. Though he is the trigger for much change, even his own in the end, he is not very well known to us. John on the other hand is the one character who refuses to embrace his angst. He refuses to give in to the notion that maybe his choices and maybe his life isn't what it all seems to be. Of course who knows, maybe they could have made a follow up movie all about John.

As for the movie.  Well the story in many ways is weak.  The best character and the most real character is Cynthia.  We've all known a Cynthia in our lives at some point or another or been a Cynthia at some point.  It also helps that Laura San Giacomo who plays her is by far the best actor on screen.  When she's on she dominates the screen.  I would have found the story much more interesting if it had focused on her character and we had followed her through, but instead we get Ann and Graham.  Graham in many ways is too odd to be believable, especially as a character that would trigger this change in Ann.  And that is where the story falls short.  Ann and Graham are the primary characters but they are not nearly as well acted or as interesting as their counters John, Peter Gllagher, and Cynthia.

On a final note, the ending feels too Hollywood.  Not sure how else to put it, but it feels tacked on.

I can't really recommend this movie though it has aged well.  It feels about as timely in 2016 as it did in 1989.


  1. The main thing I remember about this movie is that when I watched it in 1989, I felt incredibly sophisticated and self-aware. At the time, I was 23 and I thought this movie had compelling insights into the lives of people slightly older than I was. Now I think that if I were to see it again, I would think that it was very much a young person's movie, and that the real problems facing people in their early to mid-30's are quite a bit different than this movie would have you believe.

  2. Matthew, as part of the middle-class angst series, could you do a post on "Thirtysomething"?