1001 Films: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)


John (Peter Gallagher) and Ann (Andie MacDowell) are two happily married individuals. But John is cheating on his wife with her sister, Cythia (Laura San Giacomo). Graham (James Spader) comes back to his hometown and enters the lives of John and Ann. John and Graham used to be friends near a decade ago, but over the years Graham has changed into a whole new person. Something about the oddness of Graham intrigues Ann and it helps her realise a lot of things about herself and her life and brings her to change it all.

I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a very long time but for one reason or another just never found the time to press the play button. I’m a huge Soderbergh fan, even though I don’t always like all of his movies, and this has seemed like the movie to see of his filmography since it’s his first feature length film and his first real art-house movie.

Soderbergh puts sexuality on display in a way that you’ve seen before. Using a sexually repressed female character, Ann, and Cythia, her sister, who’s the complete opposite as the benchmarks for women is what Soderbergh does so that the story doesn’t feel one-dimensional.

Cynthia is in love with sex and loves the power it gives her. I feel that if we actually got to spend more time in the bedroom with Cynthia we would see that she’s the kind of girl who’d wake up one day and just try something new for the hell of it and love the experience of it all.

Ann, on the other hand, is the kind of woman who doesn’t enjoy sex, or at least doesn’t allow herself to enjoy it. She believes that it exists pretty much just as duty she has to perform for her husband and never wants it as much as men do.

Using these two characters, who understand and love each other but don’t always agree, as the benchmarks for how their perspectives on it all can change is what Soderbergh does so masterfully. As soon as Graham enters the movie we start to see not only Ann starting to open up a bit more about herself, but we see Cynthia start to restrain herself and question her lifestyle choices. This all stems from these characters being exposed to this man’s strange fetish.

Graham is an impotent man. His only way of deriving sexual pleasure is through the tapes that he’s amassed over the years. Graham interviews people, women mostly, about their sex lives and just lets them talk about how they feel about sex and their numerous experiences. And it’s this process that brings a revelation to Ann and Cynthia.

My only real complaint about the film comes in the final moment of the movie. At the end, when all is said and done, we see a shot of Ann and Graham together, and even though the movie doesn’t claim that they are going to attempt to have a relationship together I feel that it may have been implied, or at the very least I ended up inferring it. It’s an okay idea, but somehow I feel it’s not with the characters. I’m sure I’m reading too much into the moment because I think it would’ve been fine if it had ended with them wanting to be friends, and for all I know that’s all that was happening in that moment, but the vagueness of that moment is what’s caused me to be unsure about how to interpret it.

I still think the movie is great and anyone curious about any of the above topics needs to see it, but I just can’t think of the film as great just for that one wavering moment of uncertainty at the end.

IMDB says 7.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes says 97%

I say 8.5/10