Sex Lies and Videotape (1989) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for strong sexual content and language
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: James Spader, Andie McDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenplay: Steven Soderbergh

Review published February 13, 1999

Disturbing but ultimately riveting look into the lives of four people:  Ann (MacDowell, Hudson Hawk), John (Gallagher, The Player), Cynthia (San Giacomo, Pretty Woman), and Graham (Spader, Less Than Zero).  Ann and John are married but John is sleeping with Ann's sister, Cynthia.  Graham is an old college chum of John's who moves back into their hometown.  Graham and John used to be very much alike, but now they are polar opposites.  Graham just isn't a fun guy anymore; impotent, celibate, never lies, and has an odd idiosyncrasy of filming women with his Super 8 camcorder and interviewing them about sex.

The film is very quiet and subtle.  There isn't a clever plot, no nifty action sequences, and despite the title, no nudity.  The film shows bits and pieces into the very souls of four people, and in those four people we can see ourselves.  Steven Soderbergh's (The Underneath, Out of Sight) film is immensely personal, and often I found myself embarrassed to watch, as if this drama were real and I shouldn't be watching.  There are many underlying themes, but I would be hard pressed to name you any one in particular because the film is far too complex to limit to morality lessons.  It takes relationships and breaks them apart, lays them bare for our perusal, and calls into our minds questions about what is love, what is a relationship, what is happiness.

The film is wonderfully acted by all four leads, with Spader particularly standing out as the sexless monk, who comes into the trio's lives and changes them profoundly forever.  Soderbergh makes a more than impressive debut, as a writer and as a director, and crafts a one-of-a-kind drama that grips you like no Hollywood thriller could.  Deservedly won best picture at Cannes.  It's the kind of film which stays with you forever.  

Qwipster's rating:

1999 Vince Leo