sex, lies, and videotape (1989) (R)
Though its title might imply a gritty, smutty film that rose from the underground and wowed very few critics, Steven Soderbergh's feature film debut is fully-developed, fully-realized, and nothing short of a staggering masterpiece.
The movie, like so many before and after, paints a horrible picture of suburbia while still finding time to show the exquisite beauty of life.
"sex, lies, and videotape" concerns a married couple, Ann and John (Andie MacDowell and Peter Gallagher). They have struggles like every other duo. The movie's opening drops us in on a therapy session with Ann and her shrink. She thinks about garbage...in the way she thinks about starving kids in Africa. Her mind wanders and frets about situations that she has little to no control over. What that says about her, I'm still not sure. What is certain is that she doesn't want her husband touching her anymore. The intimacy of the newlywed's marriage has become nonexistent. They are no longer physical...you should expect a sexual frankness to the film when you watch it.
Before I continue, let me say this...though a large part of the film is about sex and most conversations end up being about sex, "sex, lies, and videotape" is a very unsexy movie. No nudity appears and although most of the reviews I came across called the film "incredibly erotic"...I find that "sex, lies, and videotape" strays as far from eroticism as possible. It's a movie about knowledge and intelligence—the impact we have on others. It's a mature decision that's demanded in the end, Soderbergh is making a point about the stereotypes we form...so if his brand of intimacy is erotic, then yes, the movie is very sexy.
Anyway...Ann confesses that she doesn't like the way John is treating her. For instance, he's invited an old friend of his to come up to spend a few nights. He never asked if it was okay to have a houseguest, he just went ahead and invited. She would have obliged her husband, but it would have been nice to have been asked.
The whole time Ann is in therapy, spilling her soul, we see her husband cheating on her with her sister. This man is the jerk of all jerks. An immature, sexually motivated freak, John fits nicely into the slot known as "typical male".
The sister, Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) is the anti-John. She will not be put in her place and is using John for pleasure as much as he is her. She holds all the cards in the relationship, a fact that John is not quite aware of.
Things are set in motion by the arrival of Graham (James Spader delivering a stunning performance). This man seems to ooze confidence and charm. He is soft-spoken, but doesn't sugarcoat his opinions.
His bluntness and odd attraction make Ann's world start spinning.
You expect the sexual dialogue when going into "sex, lies, and videotape"...it's inevitable. What you don't expect is the power of the film altogether.
Soderbergh take four actors and evokes from them the strongest performances, blending them with his moody setting. He makes a tangible movie, what that is so fierce and unforgiving that it's actually breathtaking.
Ten years later, "American Beauty" would be made; but Soderbergh's script is even more subtle that Ball's.
It reminds us that sex isn't everything, and that people are more important than actions. The characters feel as real as any movie I've seen, I truly believed in them...perhaps because I think these kind of people actually exist.
The actions of the characters are blind errors of lost children in a world of darkness...they don't know what they're doing. Each one of them is flawed, and they impact each other.
"sex, lies, and videotape" would inspire"Crash" and from that, "Disconnect". The movies get better as you trace them back through time...but that isn't always the case.
Cliff Martinez's score is so good, one of the best ever made...simple and painful.
The acting is superb, virtually flawless. It's this movie that would smash into both Sundance and Cannes and blow the competition out of the water. It's amazing that the only Oscar nomination that "sex, lies, and videotape" garnered was for its screenplay.
In a year that brought forth some of the most loved films including "Born on the Fourth of July", "Do the Right Thing", and "My Left Foot"...it's very easy to forget Soderbergh's film. But this one has stood the test of time better than any film I've seen. It's still viciously true and grounded in reality.
"sex, lies, and videotape" takes you into its world, an absorbing film if there ever was one.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars
Posted by Micah Jones