Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Number Two: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (Soderbergh, 1989) [Y]

I didn't know much about this film going in and I was surprised by how good it was. I watched Sex, Lies after Soderbergh's masterpiece, Schizopolis, and was prepared to be disappointed in his other movies. But in its own way, I think this movie is just as good.

The performances of Andie MacDowell and James Spader stand out immediately. Many people expressed surprise that Andie could act. It's not so surprising. Acting really isn't that hard. Here's Yoggoth's quick guide to convincing performances: 1) Don't be embarrassed by a camera/audience. 2) Act like yourself. If you've got a role that allows you to do 2 and you don't have a problem with 1 then you're set. James Spader seems to be playing a role that is also somewhat close to his actual personality, which helps. There really aren't that many actors who can deviate much from their personality. Brando comes to mind. He was actually weirder than any of the characters he played. And given the movies he was in that's saying something.

But we know those guys can act, or at least they look pretty. The surprising performance for me is that of Laura San Giacomo. I only knew her from "Just Shoot Me." She didn't stand out in that venue. But then, who would stand out acting opposite that dramatic powerhouse, David Spade? In Sex, Lies she plays Andie's slutty sister who is having an affair with Andie's husband. And somehow she still comes across as a sympathetic character.

This brings me to the final thing that makes Sex, Lies, and Videotape so good - Soderbergh's portrayal of that first titular subject. Most Hollywood movies reserve the sex for the beautiful leads or the soon-to-be-dead villains. In this film the 2 stars are dysfunctional oddities. One has never had an orgasm even though she's been married for years. The other gets himself off watching his taped interviews of women about their sexual preferences. The actual sex is mostly reserved for the creepy lawyer husband and the odd sister who is less attractive than the woman the guy's already married to. Emotional release comes not from wild conquest of the alpha-male or -female, it comes from the characters' shuffling stumble towards some semblance of normalcy.

Maybe that seems like a shallow basis for a film. It's not. Our culture is still stuck somewhere between Puritan fear and Roman bloodlust, on the scale of cultural salaciousness. Sex, Lies marks the boundary of the 80's and the 90's. Greed and hyper-shallowness subsided for a brief period in favor of grunge and awkward hipness (think Nirvana and the Ben Stiller Show vs. Miami Vice and, well, Don Johnson). Soon enough we'd have Ken Starr's $70 million report and the Young Women's Exploitation League (Britney as the founder, Lindsay as the reigning champion). But for a while there things looked more reasonable, and Sex, Lies, and Videotape was one of the high water marks.


ninquelote said...

Bold move Yoggoth. Bold move.

When I first saw this movie I wasn't sure what to expect either. I found the "Sex" in this movie even more tawdry than movies where the sex actually involved watching people performing the act in slow, panning shots strung together with steamy, wannabe porn music.

Good times.

herr zrbo said...

What do you mean by "2) Act like yourself. If you've got a role that allows you to do 2 and you don't have a problem with 1 then you're set."

Do you mean if you have a role that allows you to portray two different characters, or do you mean if you've got a role that allows you to have sex with two people? Or just what do you mean?

yoggoth said...

Haha, I mean 2 as in the 2) I put in that sentence. I could have been a bit more clear with that.

Little Earl said...

Hey, so is Ghostbusters going to get the shaft from both of us? (Let's hear it for the runners-up post.) I forgot you had this one up your sleeve (you listed it in your "Top 10 all-time list," but I barely think of it as an '80s movie anyway). Soderbergh is one of the most interesting directors working today, and I regret that I have not managed to see any of his films since Ocean's 11.

One more thing: you think they should change the title of this movie for the kids who won't even know what "videotape" is? How about...Sex, Lies, and YouTube?

yoggoth said...

But this movie will teach them what videotapes were for!

Herr Zrbo said...

Oh duuh, sorry. Thanks.