Sex, Lies and Videotape review by Peter Larkin

Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989) (18s) 1hr 40mins

Stars: James Spader, Andie MacDowell, Peter Gallagher, Laura San Giacomo.

“Sex is overrated” This film is about the concept of sex, not the act. It’s about four characters living in a bleak suburban area in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sexually frigid Ann (Andie MacDowell) and hotshot yuppie lawyer John (Peter Gallagher) are husband and wife. John is having an affair with Ann’s sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) she is the complete opposite of Ann. Ann has weekly therapy sessions; discussing herself and her marriage. She is unaware of the deception that lies beneath the surface. An old college friend of John’s Graham returns to Baton Rouge after nine years drifting. What has he been up to? Graham is played magnificently by James Spader. Graham arrives at John’s while he’s at work. Ann welcomes Graham to their home. They have a very casual and open conversation about Ann’s marriage to John. When John returns home the three have dinner and they discuss the fact that Graham’s old college girlfriend Elizabeth is also living in Baton Rouge.

The character of Graham is very mysterious. He has another open conversation with Ann in a café and tells her he is impotent. Ann tells Graham she thinks that “sex is overrated” He tells Ann “Never take advice from someone you never had sex with”

It is revealed that Graham videotapes women talking about their sexual experiences. This makes Ann feel very uncomfortable. Cynthia has wanted to meet Graham since John mentioned him. Ann warns her to stay to stay away from Graham.

The premise of this film is a character study of relationships. It delves deep into the characters’ thoughts. I felt very uneasy watching how realistic the people were portrayed. Baton Rouge feels empty just like the characters. They are all in their early thirties and their sex lives are out of proportion. The film tracks the behaviour of each individual in particular Ann and Graham. It’s easy to symbolically link the characters with the title sex (Cynthia) lies (John) and Videotape (Graham) these characters are ordinary and strange in different ways. The erotic scenes involve John and Cynthia together. As I said it’s about the concept not the act. The audience is more fascinated by the mysterious Graham and frigid Ann whose conversations are the best scenes in the film. Spader’s performance is a tour-de-force in this intriguing film.

Steven Soderbergh wrote the script in less than two weeks and made it at a remarkable budget of $1.2 million. It was shot in only thirty days on location in Baton Rouge. Sex, Lies And Videotape was a huge hit at when it premiered at Sundance and won the audience award. It went to even wider praise at Cannes where it was rewarded Palme d’Or (best picture) FIPRESCI (critics’ prize) and best actor (James Spader) Sex, Lies And Videotape is important in film history for making independent film a widely known genre.

It is a film in which sex is lied about to cover up the private obsessions of the individuals. The characters are given the chance to breathe as real people, not as conventional characters treading down paths of formulaic outcomes. There is a lot left unsaid by characters which is part of its’ original, daring, razor sharp script (Oscar nominated) I felt it is very unpredictable and that it what makes it mesmerising. This film is alive and free to surprise us. It is filmmaking of the psyche and one of the best films of 1989.

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