Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

sex lies and videotape

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex confessions on tape.

This movie was the critic’s darling when it was released 24 years ago and there didn’t seem to be anyone around that didn’t like it. I remember watching it back then and feeling like it was a bit overrated and although I liked it a little more the second time around I can’t say that my feelings about it have changed all that much. The story is about John (Peter Gallagher) who is married to Ann (Andie MacDowell) and who is having an affair with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo) due to Ann’s frigidity. In comes Graham (James Spader) an old college buddy of John’s who stays with the couple temporarily while he looks for a permanent residence. Graham has an unusual fetish of recording women confessing to some of their wild sexual moments to the camera to which he records and then gets off to later. Ann is initially attracted to Graham, but when she finds about his habit she is appalled only to later become keen to the idea and agree to do a taped confession herself, which sends everything spiraling out of control.

The movie seems excessively talky with scenes and conversations particularly the dinner one between John, Ann and Graham going on longer than it should. Not a lot really happens and there is little if any action. The production values are pretty basic and don’t seem much different than the ones Graham uses for his taped confessions. For a film that talks so much about sex, which seems to fill pretty much every conversation that the characters have it is not very erotic and the attempts at eroticism is pretty generic. I did like writer/director Steven Soderbergh’s use of editing where conversations from one scene between two characters will be heard overlapping over a shot featuring two different characters. However, the scene where Cynthia gives her confession to Graham is ruined by the sound of a train whistle going off in the background, which became distracting.

I also had a hard time buying into the basic premise. I just couldn’t understand why so many women would freely divulge to a perfect stranger all of their deep dark fantasies and sexual excursions knowing full well that they were being recorded for his own personal gratification with no real assurance that these tapes wouldn’t one day get into the wrong hands and come back to haunt or humiliate them years later. There is also what I considered a glitch when Ann is vacuuming the rug and finds Cynthia’s earring underneath their bed, which was apparently left by her when she had sex with John in the bed a few days earlier, but I kept thinking that after a few days Cynthia would have realized that she was missing her earring and had John go back to retrieve it. It is possible that Cynthia may have intentionally planted the earring there for her sister to find since she seemed to really dislike her, but if that was the case the movie should have confirmed this, which it doesn’t.

MacDowell is great in the lead and looks beautiful. I enjoyed the character and felt her presence in the story made the movie more interesting. I did though have some issues with the opening scene where she is seen talking to a male therapist about her lack of sex drive, which to me wasn’t realistic. I would think that if a woman had sexual problems that she would be reluctant to discuss it with a male and would only talk about it with a female Dr. Also, she sits on his sofa Indian style with her shoes off, which seemed too relaxed a posture for a woman that otherwise is frigid and reserved.

Spader is also likable and conveys a surprisingly sensitive performance. However, I couldn’t understand what type of person in this day and age would leave their door always unlocked especially at night. Gallagher is just too much of a narcissist pretty boy philanderer to have much appeal although seeing how things unravel for him at the end and how he somehow feels morally superior to Graham is interesting.

I didn’t care for the Cynthia character at all. She dresses and behaves too much like a one-dimensional tramp and the only thing that ever comes out of her mouth is a barrage of sarcastic, snarky remarks and at no time ever shows even some remote sensitivity, which might have helped.

Although his part is brief Steven Brill is a hoot as a barfly constantly making feeble attempts to hit on Ann. He is the one amusing part of the movie, which I wished had infused more humor.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Studio: Miramax

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray

2 responses to “Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

  1. Wow! Was this forgettable film overrated! Why?

  2. Totally disagree. I think this film is a 10 out of 10. Spader is portrayed as the weirdo/bad guy in the first half of the film, but ultimately, he was loyal, even though he had a weird hobby and fetish. He had an undeniable connection with Mcdowell’s character… if only based on total honesty. She was religious, and he wasn’t, but it didn’t matter. A connection is a connection. The husband was a douchebag, thinking he could have his cake and eat it, too… and he lost a great woman. It’s amazing, the irony in this film… it is a work of art. “It is raining.” Perfection.

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