I was surprised that I hadn’t seen Sex, Lies, & Videotape until now, especially considering how much of a fan I am of Steven Soderbergh and his films. This, his debut feature, only barely registers as a Soderbergh film, and really only then after one takes that knowledge into account and really begins looking for it. What is here, and in readily viewable form, is a very interesting and surprisingly frank expose on relationships, if only between the people involved in the film’s plot. It basically revolves around four characters, and how the arrival of one of them interrupts the delicate equilibrium that had been balancing between the other three up to that point. Simple premise, and quite an open one, and Soderbergh thankfully makes full use of it.
Ann is a housewife in Baton Rouge, married to John, with whom she has a tenuous relationship at best. They barely talk, or at least anything beyond the superficial, and they have pretty much stopped having sex altogether, though this may also be because John is having an affair with Ann’s younger sister Cynthia. In enters Graham, John’s old college friend, who comes to town looking for a place to stay before he can find an apartment. John has offered, and it is Graham’s entrance into the dynamic that causes a lot of secrets and repressed emotions to come out into the light, especially when the others discover Graham’s hobby of making videotapes of him talking with women about their sexual lives. The plot is probably even more basic than I’ve already laid out here, with plot developments occurring only sporadically, and then only because they naturally develop after the characters have been interacting and evolving with each other. That’s really what this one is about, and it’s thanks to Soderbergh’s script and the excellent performances by the actors that it is more than enough to carry the film through its deceptively brief running time. In particular, accolades should be (and were) given to James Spader as Graham; at face value, he doesn’t appear to be doing much, but just like the film’s plot, that is in and of itself the essence and skill in what he is doing. It’s the little tics and imperfections that Spader effortlessly interjects into the character’s face and dialogue that makes it come off so natural, and I honestly think it’s a performance that many other actors can watch and learn and take a lesson from.
I honestly can’t believe this won the Palme d’Or; this is way too engaging and entertaining a film for the Cannes jury to stoop down and give the top prize to. It’s actually making me a little frustrated, that other films with not even half the entertainment value of this one could still manage the win, which to me just seems to degrade the actual award given to this one in return. I honestly can’t think of a Soderbergh film I’ve seen that I haven’t enjoyed, and that streak remains alive with Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I’m glad I did finally see this, and I think you’ll be glad if you take the time to see it as well.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10