“I remember reading somewhere that men learn to love the person that they’re attracted to, and that women become more and more attracted to the person that they love.”
Some movies aren’t just for watching but also for inspiring. Steven Soderbergh’s debut sex, lies, and videotape seems to reach through the screen, beckoning the artist that lives inside everyone. It points the camera to the camera, and with the maturity and humanity it packs into such a simple production, it asks you to follow in its footsteps. I adored the movie, and I was inspired that independent cinema is more than just a buzzword.
The film works as a simple character study with four main players. Ann is a kind woman with a disinterest in sex, having never experienced an orgasm. Her husband, John, is a successful lawyer maintaining an affair with Ann’s sister, the spunky bartender Cynthia. When John’s old friend Graham comes to town, the lives of all four are impacted. Cue the sex, lies, and videotape(s).
Soderbergh puts great faith in his script, which he wrote in the span of a week on yellow legal pad. The characters are genuine and rarely archetypal, with maybe the exception of John, and the camera is used simply as a tool to tell their story. There’s nothing flashy about the movie, but it’s not slow or muted either. The script is juicy and scandalous, which helps explain the movie’s broad appeal, but it feels rooted in truth. Marriage is plagued by lies and confusion, and good people are forced to break down what they believe. We see Ann turn from a polite, courteous woman, uncomfortable speaking about sex, to a powerful force, using sex to find happiness and reclaim her life. She is the strongest character (and actor, Andie MacDowell) in the film, and she proves to be wiser than our expectations would grant her by the end of the movie.
The dialogue also carries deep resonance. It seemed like the movie was packed with insightful quotes and moments of insight, but looking back, it was just ordinary dialogue that was heightened through great scene construction. You find yourself hanging on to every word. Every character is a mystery, and you find yourself yearning to understand these people. Some movies want you to understand everyone from the first scene, but sex, lies, and videotape grips you with the notion that you may never understand any of its characters. Every scene is also played with intense realism, as if the film itself is some lurid tape you’ve uncovered and are enjoying voyeuristically.
It’s just beautiful to watch an independent movie, regardless of quality (although this movie is quality). Cinema should be in the hands of everyone, telling stories big and small through all sorts of lenses. Soderbergh is such an interesting double agent, making movies in a wide range of narrative scopes and production values. I really respect how he keeps coming back to the independent film, even when he doesn’t have to. While I love his big budget work, I’ve always been most fascinated by movies like this one, The Limey, and even weaker strides like Unsane. I deeply admire his love for the independent film, and I can only hope there is more to come.
Films Left to Watch: 817