sex, lies, and videotape was one of those movies that created an incredible amount of buzz when it was first released back in 1989. Some of the buzz stemmed from the subject matter, yes, but most of it came from the fact that this was an independent film (produced for a mere $1.2 million) that went on to earn about $24 million at the U.S. box office. That kind of return for an indie was unheard of back then, and paved the way for a flood of similar independent efforts in the 1990s.
The film is also notable for having launched the careers of three of its leads, as well as of director Steven Soderbergh. This aspect was the most attractive to me, as I was particularly interested in seeing sex, lies, and videotape to get a glimpse of a young James Spader (Boston Legal), Peter Gallagher (The O.C.), and Andie MacDowell. Unfortunately, nothing about the film resonated with me, so just seeing younger versions of these current stars was the only benefit I derived from the viewing.
Plot summary (with possible spoilers): MacDowell stars as Ann Bishop Mullany, a woman stuck in a loveless, sexless marriage with John (played by Gallagher). Ann suspects that John is cheating on her, but he denies it even when she confronts him point-blank and tells him it would be far better for her to know now than to find out later.
The truth of the matter is that yes, John is indeed having an affair — with Ann’s sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). He frequently cancels meetings with clients in order to have midday romps with Cynthia, usually at her house, but sometimes at his.
Things start to change when John invites his old college roommate Graham (Spader) to stay at his house for a few days. Ann at first opposes this because she wasn’t consulted in the matter, but after meeting Graham, she relents. Graham is not at all what Ann expected a friend of John’s to be. He’s far more cerebral and mysterious than John is, and Ann soon finds herself attracted to him.
As Ann and Graham spend time together, they talk frankly about a wide range of subjects, including sex. Ann learns that Graham has a collection of tapes on which a bunch of different women open up to him about their sex lives. Watching these tapes by himself is the only way he finds sexual release, since he can’t perform with another person.
Ann finds herself thinking of Graham almost constantly, and as the film progresses, we see her trying to come to terms with the situation. She finds out about John and Cynthia, records an interview for Graham, decides to leave John, and ultimately ends up with Graham in what looks to be the beginning of a promising relationship.
My Reaction: It’s always hard for me to look back at so-called groundbreaking films and appreciate their originality, especially when nearly 20 years has passed since the initial release. That was certainly the case here with sex, lies, and videotape, as I was mostly bored throughout the whole thing and couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. Perhaps this was new and unusual stuff in 1989, but today it just plays out as dull and uninspired.
I was disappointed with all the endless “talking head” scenes in this film, and found myself mostly waiting for something to happen. Moreover, I wasn’t even all that impressed with the three lead actors, not even Spader, whom I almost always love. He came off as little more than a whiny weirdo here and was supremely annoying. Hard to believe he won Best Actor at Cannes for this performance. Andie MacDowell was bland as well, and there was zero chemistry between her and Spader. Gallagher did a little better as the jerk husband, but that surely wasn’t enough to salvage the film.
Obviously my opinion about sex, lies, and videotape is in the minority since it has generally been praised to the heavens by critics and audiences. I don’t care, though. I thought this was a tiresome chore to sit through, and I give it just 2 stars out of 5.