Dec. 21, 2008
Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)
Grade: 68/100

Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Laura San Giacomo

What it's about. Ann (Andie MacDowell) and Graham (James Spader) are both sexually inhibited, but in different ways. Ann is frigid because she is a "good" girl, and is in a loveless marriage with young hotshot attorney John (Peter Gallagher). Graham had an epiphany nine years ago, when he decided he didn't like his physically and emotionally volatile personality.

Since then, Graham hasn't had sex with a woman. Instead, he convinces them to come to his apartment, where he videotapes sexually explicit interviews with them. He has accumulated quite a number of these tapes, which he 'enjoys' watching in the solitary privacy of his own apartment.

Graham was a close friend of John during their hedonistic college days. Graham stays with John briefly, long enough for Ann to befriend Graham. She has several reasons to like him. He's cute, he's nice, and he is capable of more intimate conversation than is John. However, the easily shocked Ann cuts off her friendship with Graham once she learns about his videotape fetish.

Not so with Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), Ann's hottie free love sister. Once Cynthia learns about Graham, she eagerly pays him a visit, and makes a videotape with him. Cynthia has for some time carried on an affair with her brother-in-law John. When Ann learns about this, she visits Graham, knowing that Cynthia likely confessed the affair in her video and that Graham would tell Ann the truth. But once Ann looks into Graham's puppy dog eyes, it's love, and she seduces him. She also leaves John, who is enraged and confronts Graham.

How others will see it. Sex, Lies, and Videotape was the first feature film for director/writer Steven Soderberg, whose began his career making rock music videos. More recently, he is known for Traffic, Erin Brockovich, and the blockbuster Ocean's Eleve/Twelve/Thirteen franchise.

Fewer people saw Sex, Lies, and Videotape, but the film was a huge critical success. It garnered Oscar nominations and cleaned up at Cannes. The title has been endless parodied (e.g. "Beverly Hills, 90210: Sex, Lies and Volleyball.") Given its prurient subject matter, it is surprising that film actually contains no worthwhile nudity. This will certainly disappoint those who see it in the hopes of seeing the naughty parts of its hot leads, or at least their body doubles.

How I felt about it. The script, story, and characters are all credible. True, it isn't clear exactly how Graham supports himself, unless he has sold his videotapes to porn distributors. One also wonders why Graham sleeps on the couch while at Ann's enormous house, which simply has to have a spare bedroom. Cynthia idly mentions that she has lost a pearl earring, blatant foreshadowing that makes it only a matter of time until it is discovered by Ann underneath her own bed.

Still, these are minor complaints. Mostly, this is a film about a mismatched married couple who are forced to look outside of their marriage for compatible lovers. That is why it one believes Ann when she complains to Graham that her life is sh*t, when she doesn't have to work, doesn't have to have sex, and gets to live in a huge house in a first class neighborhood. Plus, she's young, healthy, and beautiful. Such problems to have.