Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) Poster

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mattymatt4ever17 July 2001
"sex, lies and videotape" is a low-key drama that REALLY showcases Stephen Soderbergh's true talents. The film was made on a modest budget and is mainly dialogue-driven, yet I was deeply fascinated from start to finish. This is another film that sends out a message to all aspiring directors: You don't need a large budget to make a truly great motion picture! Soderbergh hasn't received worldwide fame until recently with the hit "Traffic." As much as I loved "Traffic" I urge everyone--who's curious of Soderbergh's work--go check out this initial effort.

The element that impressed me the most was the succint, yet brutally realistic dialogue. I've never been more impressed with a film's dialogue and actually screamed out, "Now THAT'S how people talk!" The interactions between each character are so intense and down to earth, and gets the audience deeply engaged. James Spader shines in this career-making performance as a documentary filmmaker who gets his rocks off filming women talking about sex. We never know why he developed this unusual interest, but that's what's so great. And the way Spader carries his character is so subtle and powerful. His character is quiet and mysterious, and he expresses this enigmatic role perfectly with every silence, every facial gesture, every tone of voice. That's another element that I loved. Soderbergh expresses to his audience that people don't always mean what they say. And you can tell by every hint of body language. During these character interplays, you get a feel for what the characters are really thinking with their every subtle nuance. And that's what creates most of the film's tension.

And of course, the film has great depth and treats its subject with the greatest of maturity. In one scene, Spader interviews this young woman who talks about her first experience with masturbation. That could've easily been transformed into something gratuitous and heavy-handed. The subjects of sex and infidelity are treated with a sense of reality, and I'm sure many couples who are involved in relationships where one of the mates are cheating will find the whole situation with Andie McDowell and Peter Gallagher haunting. Everything is low-key and some might find the rhythm slow-moving, but that's what I liked about it. It slowly unfolds and takes its time developing the characters and their situations. Many filmmakers would've taken the subject of infidelity and made it into a melodramatic soap. But Soderbergh is very patient. He never once thinks, "Maybe the audience is not interested anymore," and speeds things up. He goes at his own pace, and works with it consistently.

I don't know if others will get the same effect I did out of this movie, but appreciate a film that respects its characters and respects its dialogue. Sure, I also appreciate a film with massive entertainment value, but other times I'd rather watch something with depth and realism. This is one of those films that just has a subtle energy. Looking at "sex, lies and videotape" from the outside, it's hard to explain the power of Soderbergh's masterpiece. All I say is go see for yourself! I hope you'll be just as astounded.

My score: 10 (out of 10)
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The same as you learned in Sunday School, only the exemplars are different
csm2325 July 2003
Sex, Lies and Videotape will probably strike the average viewer as irredeemably degenerate, maybe even perverted, since voyeurism is still considered aberrant behavior. But as far as this film is concerned, that's the appearance, not the reality. Whereas the drama revolves to a certain extent around the voyeuristic masturbation of an impotent man, the heart and soul of the film is an unrelenting, hard driving psychological siege on the biggest erogenous zone of all: the brain.

This film is about sex. But it's not about the frothy swapping of fluids and feelings. It's about honesty, without which one can't have intimacy, which is to sexual stimulation what the water valve is to the hydrant. From beginning to end, we see this theme brought into focus by the dramatic contrast between two different relationships – the one based on lies and deceit, the other based upon honesty. And guess which one wins out in the long run?

In a sense, it's what your mother and Sunday school teacher taught you all along. But what makes this movie way more interesting than your mother or Sunday school teacher is the level of honesty it suggests is necessary as the basis of a healthy relationship. Ann (Andy McDowell), for example, an acceptably moral person tells the voyeuristic masturbator `You got a problem.' He replies by adding that he has a lot of problems. But, he says, `They belong to me.'

Somehow, the openness about one's problems renders their bile and poison ineffective. `Lilies that fester,' said Shakespeare, `smell far worse than weeds.'
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a terrific, slowly unfolding debut with sublime performances
Quinoa19844 July 2004
Steven Soderbergh, as observed by other reviewers and critics, did take inspiration from the kinds of films Eric Rohmer's been making for decades. These kinds of films, as Sex, Lies, and Videotape is at its core, about people in morality crises, and how they get out of them or linger with how they act is the point. Some people may not like the film, therefore, as nothing incredibly outrageous or spectacular will occur. For all the attention Soderbergh received (Golden Palm, Independent Spirits, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, immediate recognition), he's made a small film, and it's not as ambitious as some of his later, greater works like Out of Sight and Traffic. But as a revealing, intimate character study, with an often clever and controlled mis-en-scene, Soderbergh shows his skills were already honed at twenty-six.

Without good acting the film would be like a hopeless rendition of a foreign film, but with the four lead performances from McDowell, Gallagher, Gia Como, and Spader (his is most under-stated of the bunch for me) these are as fully realized characters as Soderbergh could get. They all must've taken something about the characters in the script, because for all the flaws and misconceptions and fears these characters carry, they are human. Even Gallagher's John, who's the conniving husband and lawyer, is recognizably as he is even when he's comparatively lesser than Graham and Ann. Only one side character, the barfly played by Steven Brill, gets the film to immediately halt with uncomfortable humor. But the rest of the film, loaded with innuendo (there's not one shot of nudity, similar to a Rohmer film like Chloe in the Afternoon, where the cover art of the film is rather misleading to those looking for a film with breasts and other parts) and involving drama, doesn't shake its foundations until maybe the last five to ten minutes. And when it does, it does not make the film a lost cause, at least for me. Begs to be seen again, though with maybe a year or so between viewings. A-
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Exquisitely crafted, honest, minimalist and an almost perfect product
ghanti23 September 2008
It is a film about relationships, dilemma, courage and more. What works in life and what does not. Honesty does and (crudely speaking) at a very basic level that is the message. At the very heart are the three protagonists who are stuck. The therapist is spectacularly wrong in his interpretation to the apparently frigid wife: 'If you think about it are obsessed about things you have no control over'. But she demonstrates at the end that she did have the control. All she needed was a better, more 'intimate' therapist; a catalyst : Graham ; who ends up uncluttering the cheating sister in law's mind and forces the husband to confront his problems in the process. It is a remarkably optimistic film in its content and therefore perhaps slightly unrealistic.

It is a film about masterful use of contrasts; the two women and the two men could not have been more opposite in every possible respect. In a way Graham is also a perfect contrast to the imperfect Psychoanalyst. This helps the director bring out the message clearly.

The whole film is crafted in a minimalist way, flows smoothly and does not carry much 'garbage'! Music, camera and the narrative are almost perfect in that they are almost invisible. So are the actors, especially James Spader and to a large extent Andie MacDowell. Gallegher is probably less than perfect but very good nonetheless. Laura Giacomo portrays a rather difficult character really well. It treats the audience with respect as the message is subtle and very personal, as it should be. My only grievance is the last office scene involving Gallegher was probably unnecessary.

Sex and the videotapes are incidental to the storey and perhaps misnomers therefore.

It is like reading a rather well written short storey and I would recommend 'Days And Nights In The Forest' (perhaps slightly more realistic and understated than this film) by Satyajit Ray to those who have enjoyed this film.

My rating 8/10.
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Spader is amazing!
Aphex978 November 2001
Spader's character was the reason I enjoyed the film so much. I could identify with him and his dilemma. It seemed he felt like a stranger in an even stranger land. Who were these humans that seem so happy in the same world he could not find happiness within? What is this life we live? More importantly, what is the point? Why bother? His great battle with existence was a philosophical one. He, like myself, felt infinite sadness over the knowledge that are no concrete answers...

The movie is also interesting because it attacks the main sexual organ, the mind. Graham while trying to distance himself from the human experience by capturing sex confessionals on videotape, perhaps unwittingly became more intimate with his "partners." Roger Ebert points out that the films' argument is that conversation is better than sex.

Personally, I think the movie is about trying to find happiness with another person. Some Modest Mouse song lyrics come to mind. "And it's hard to be a human being/ And it's harder as anything else/ and I'm lonesome when you're around/ I'm never lonesome when I'm by myself" Graham finds it hard to be a human being and live in this human world full of values that he finds strange, confusing, and most importantly unfulfilling. What do you do when your ideology and needs don't mesh in the society you live within? How does one deal with feelings of loneliness in a society that spurns him? This movie is about one man's way.

James Spader does such an excellent job as this character. In fact, great acting all around by the entire cast and excellent writing and directing by Mr. Soderbergh. Go see this movie now!
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Iced-Tea, Anyone?
Lee-10714 August 2002
Why does Graham prefer iced tea so much? He offers it to Ann when she visits him for the first time at his apartment. Does the same when Cynthia pays him a visit. When he and Ann are having their first real conversation in the restaurant there's a glass of iced tea next to him, while Ann has a glass of white wine. Besides being a probable leitmotif, it's something that, seems to me is a part of Graham's character. He comes to live in that town to get away, to find a closure to his past. He ends up providing closure to the lives of these three characters. Let's imagine a scenario sans Graham - a phase in the life of a woman whose husband is having an extra-marital affair with her sister. She's suspicious but he denies. She finds evidence to prove that he's having an affair with her sister and decides she's had it, she's leaving her husband. Do you think this might have been the conclusion of this scenario? I think not. As Ann rightly says to Graham, that she would have left her husband anyway, but the reason she's doing it now, is because of him. She thinks sex is overrated, her sister seems to believe in the opposite and here comes a man whose profession, for all practical purposes is having women talk about sex. Ann's therapist is a foil to Graham. While he dispenses his advice and listens patiently to Ann, Graham is the all important catalyst that helps her make a practical decision in her life. He also aids in her real sexual awakening. Before Graham, sex, for Ann was incidental. Now it takes on a different perspective.

One might say that in making women talk so intimately to him about sex, he sort of breaks the ice on a topic that is more or less socially tabooed. His is a presence that evokes trust in the most introverted of women, making them confide in him and by doing so have an almost cathartic experience. I think the iced tea motif of Graham's character fits in here. Beyond his trademark black-shirt, blue denim attire, it is the only other element related to him that is conspicuously stated. That's my conjecture anyway!

Needless to say, James Spader is superb as Graham. He manages to evoke many of the nuances of Graham's character by subtle, volatile facial expressions. Andie McDowell is also great as Ann. Hers is a really sensitive and touching performance. Peter Gallagher and Laura San Giacomo are both equally good. The music for this film is appropriately minimal and poignant. Great effort by Soderbergh, who I'm glad to hear has come back to his experimental film roots with his recent film 'Full Frontal'.
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Lies and Videotape, but mostly talk
canadude31 May 2004
Yes, "Sex, Lies and Videotape" is about sex, lies and videotape. And, while the sex is mostly served in dialogue-form and not a single shot of nudity is present, there is some graphic lying and some explicit videotape. Kinky, right?

Well, not really. "Sex, Lies and Videotape" is Steven Sodenbergh's first film and it's not a bad one. It's just not entirely worthy of the praise it received, at Cannes for example. The situations in the film do create a fair amount of tension that moves the story along. But then, it'd be hard not to have some tension in a film about a woman whose husband is cheating on her with her sister, while she starts interacting with a stranger who is the husband's old college roommate and has a strange videotape fetish and may or may not be a pathological liar. (How do you believe someone who just confessed to having been a pathological liar to not being one anymore? The film doesn't really riddle that one for us.)

Clearly, these characters clash together. But it's not as heated or interesting as it was in later Sodenbergh's films like the spectacular "Traffic." The dialogues in "Sex, Lies and Videotape" range from good to incredibly awkward. But the real strength of the film is the actors. While James Spader clearly stands out - I have never seen him deliver such a subtle performance where every scene simply works for him - Andie McDowell is phenomenal, Peter Gallagher playing the scummy, treacherous husband yuppie lawyer type is great and Laura San Giacomo as the vulgar sister / lover is fabulous. Their performances make the script work, which, under normal circumstances with inferior actors would have seemed rather silly.
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Didn't live up to the expectations
davidec235 April 2013
I heard a great deal about this movie from some of my friends and having seen some of Soderbergh's more recent works, I must say I was kind of let down. The story in itself is kind of interesting but the characters (and the actors) aren't. Most of the characters felt superficial to me ie. the successful lawyer having an affair, cheating sister, repressed wife etc. I just think Soderbergh should have built the characters a little more. Other than that it is quite a decent film. Especially the different perspectives this film gives you on infidelity and dishonesty (and fetishes I guess). Not a movie I would watch again though... I'll just stick to Soderbergh more recent work (Traffic was brilliant).
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Slow And Talky
Lechuguilla21 September 2010
Throughout, I felt like a fly on the wall at a psychiatrist's private session with a client. One character asks another an intimate question; the second character responds. Then someone asks another question, to which a low-key response is given, and on and on. I don't recall a movie wherein characters ask each other so many nosy, intimate questions. With its voyeuristic theme, this film gets just a tad too personal for my taste.

Four attractive, thirty-something yuppies, two males and two females, with nothing on their minds but sex, ask, probe, inquire, explore, and poke around each others' psyche, spurred on by one of the male characters (James Spader) who likes to videotape sex interviews with women. Fortunately, Spader gives a convincing performance, one that renders the story credible, if the viewer is interested in this sort of thing.

It's a modern story, similar in some ways to "Carnal Knowledge" (1971), but more up-to-date with the video technology. Scenes are filmed mostly in interiors, which gives the story a claustrophobic feel and a sense of intimacy. We get to know the four characters, maybe a little more than I would have liked. All of them are flawed and therefore very human. The Peter Gallagher character is a scoundrel and easy to dislike. The two women are sisters and very unlike, one an uptight introvert, the other a rather salacious extrovert.

The plot is slow, with long camera "takes". The script is talky. Dialogue trends too on-the-nose at times. The camera is rather static and unobtrusive. I didn't like the grainy visuals of the taped interviews.

Low-budget and very low-key, "Sex, Lies, And Videotape" will appeal to viewers who like films wherein characters talk a lot about sex. There's not much "action". But all that erotic talk substitutes for action. Which is really the whole point of the film.
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Excellent film!
roger.nelson10 February 2001
Once in a great while a motion picture comes along that surprises me. sex, lies, and videotape is one of them. 10-years had passed between the release of this picture and the time I saw it. Then another 2-years before I decided to write about just how wonderful it is. My only regret is that I didn't get to view it on the big screen. My commentary on this film will be terse and the reason for this is I admired the film so much that I could go on-and-on about how really good it is.

The first thing I noticed about the characters of Graham and Ann is that they are drawn to each other without realizing it. During their first scene together, I could tell there was some attraction between them. Ann is a sweet, innocent, very intelligent woman who is unfulfilled, yet doesn't realize her dilemma and is, therefore, in therapy. At first I thought my instinct was wrong in this incidence, but came to realize how right I had been when Ann arose to go upstairs just to look at Graham sleeping. Neither of them have a clue as to what is transpiring between them, but their future together seems set and often that can be the best kind.

Andie MacDowell is absolutely wonderful as Ann. She owned that role.

Graham is the character in search of closure to his past, which he regrets, probably due to his new-found moral code. His attraction to Ann isn't evident to him because most men seeking a higher moral plane don't think of other men's wives in that regard. Yet he openly discusses his impotence with her in a diner while the two of them are apartment-hunting for him. It's true that they are sharing secrets, but why something so personal a nature? Ann tells Graham that she thinks sex is overrated and gives him her reasons why. So, we have two comparative strangers, who had only met the day before, discussing things about their lives that they normally would keep to themselves and it is because they are comfortable with one-another and are still unaware of the deep-rooted attraction they share.

James Spader is one of my favorite actors and turns in his usual outstanding performance.

The character of Cynthia (Ann's sister) is the opposite of Ann. She knows what she wants and isn't afraid to go after it, even though it's her sister's husband. She doesn't want him on a permanent basis -- just when she needs him. Sort of like a light switch that you can flip on and off.

Good performance by Laura San Giacomo.

The toughest character to write about is John. Here is a guy on his way up the ladder of success who lets his hormones affect his job performance. He isn't entirely to blame, because he is in a loveless marriage and he doesn't realize the fact that he doesn't hold the key to Ann's heart.

Good performance by Peter Gallagher.

Mr. Soderbergh did an outstanding job of directing the four main characters to achieve the proper mix. Without his superb direction this would have been just another film, but it is so much more than that. I look forward to more of his writer-director creations, but sex, lies, and videotape will remain one of my all-time favorite films.
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Fascinating Debut
Galina_movie_fan3 August 2007
Steven Soderbergh's now legendary debut was the first his film I saw. It was in 1989, during the Moscow International Film Festival. Only later I found out that Sodebergh was 29 when he wrote the screenplay in eight days during a trip to Los Angeles and made the film for $1.8 million. His independent movie was a real hit that was selected for Cannes Film Festival and won the Palme d'Or and the best actor prize for James Spader.

The film concerns four attractive and intelligent young people. Ann (Andy MacDowell in the best role I've ever seen her) is married to John (Gallagher) but their sexual life is practically non-existent since Ann finds sex over-rated, and to simply put it, she does not enjoy or even need it. John is having an affair with Ann's sexy younger sister, Cynthia (San Giacomo) who seems to resent Ann. Enters Graham (Spader), John's college friend with the unusual hobby of videotaping women while they describe their sexual fantasies and very important skill - he knows how to listen.

I had seen many movies before "sex, lies and videotape" and I've seen plenty since but it has a special place in my memory. It was the first film I had seen that dealt with and talked about very intimate topics of sexuality, satisfaction, jealousy, sisters' relationship, marital problems and loyalty, the secret longings in all of us, and the ever mysterious nature of erotic desire with such level of honesty, openness, and intelligence. The writing, the dialogs, and the acting are superb with James Spader and Laura San Giacomo simply outstanding and Andie McDowell very convincing.
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Calling All Proclivities
dataconflossmoor18 August 2002
A classic case of where the mechanics of marriage become the insidious culprit to sexual indiscretion...John Millaney is the overly mortgaged white collar malcontent who is callous with his regard toward marital fidelity...He has an affair with his wife's sister, Cynthia Bishop, she is a morally bankrupt loner who resents her sister's relatively structured existence...Gram Dalton is the voyeuristic creep who preys on the dissatisfaction of married women with the seven year itch syndrome, and other disgruntled and socially misplaced women as well!! He perceives vulnerability in women to be sexually stimulating!! His ultimate undoing is his creative resolution to boredom, and this basically backfires in an absolutely horrendous way!!! Ann Millaney (John's wife) is torn between a perfect marriage and an emotional millennium.. She is convinced that not only does doing things her way work, IT MUST!!. It is not necessary to have all the missing pieces to the puzzle in her marriage because she realizes the ramifications of such a heinous plight!! What presses everyone's buttons? Is it kink, is it bi, or bi for the night, is it emotional nurturing?...James Spader's character (Gram Dalton) has a life that is based on comparative stability, everybody (mostly women) can expose their lewd nuances while he keeps his a secret, once someone has tampered with his quirkiness which is close to the vest, he has no ability to cope, thus, he exaggerates his mistakes!!!All of the characters in this film are hit with the grim reality that not accepting responsibility accomplishes nothing....They all engage in a form of permanent self destruction!! Being flippant about immorality has a definite rude awakening!! What seems complicated is really very simple, and the depraved intrigue of perversion merely brings out all of their most dreaded skeletons in the closet!!!! Seldom in a film is there such a precise poignancy about things that bother people that really should not bother them at all...This is what gets them into so much trouble!! Steven Soderbergh's production efforts in this film were merely a harbinger of things to come, as he has gone on to produce and direct fabulous movies ("Good Night and Good Luck", "Syrianna", and "Traffic", to name but a few!!) This film effectuates a noteworthy devotion to an unintentional and sordid sexual authenticity!! Sundance is a network for the non-conventional.."Sex Lies and Videotape" is testament to the fact that what appears gray flannel is not always the panacea people would like to believe it to be!! Marital upheaval is all about emotional affliction in this movie. Latent reactions are a manifestation of psychological insecurity. You are never going to get what you want out of a relationship because you don't know what that is!! This was the summon substance of what the film "Sex Lies and Videotape" was all about!! This film had a personal dedication to it as well!!

A very well made film, I give it 5 stars!!!
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I'm wearing red, you're wearing red.
sharky_557 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Sex, Lies and Videotape focuses on the marriage of Ann and John, and how they are merely getting along without any real sparks left. The opening sequence has the voiceovers of Ann's therapist session over John skimping a meeting in the middle of the day to meet a girl. There is a nice bit of subversion here because Ann's confessions aren't all doom and gloom; she's a little upset about the little things that aren't going quite right, but as far as she knows the marriage is still solid. The spanner in the works that arrives is John's old friend Graham, who is immediately pegged as an enigmatic individual from his first lines.

Soderbergh's goal, however, is to subvert this notion. Ann is at once drawn to his mysterious persona; the brutal honesty and forwardness of his dialogue, his open intentions, the air of genuine concern towards the person he speaks to. And of course, he has a secret; he is impotent and cannot hold an erection, so he videotapes women talking about their sexual history and gets off to that. What this film aspires to do is not marginalise him for it, but to contrast him against the couple with all their infidelity and portray him as the normal one. He is not the one that is hurting others, and he approaches each of these women with the utmost ease until we too feel comfortable enough to open up to him and then some.

It's a neat and intriguing concept for sure, but the problem is that Soderbergh seems to feel the need to intensity this contrast by completely hamming up the other main characters into insufferable clichés. Ann positively giggles when even thinking of masturbation and would never ever broach the topic of sex by herself. John is the rough, absent spouse who jokes about his wife's bad cooking and spins such a smooth story deflecting away when confronted with accusations of infidelity. Opposing her sister is the husky voiced Cynthia who ends each sentence with an unmistakable drawl and poses provocatively with every step as if to remind us she is the designated 'bad girl' and wild, carefree nympho. The camera-work betrays every instance of this predictability; the pan across to reveal the photo of loving wife Ann as John sets up another meeting Cynthia, and then later as she finds him posing on the bed. The black and white intimacy of the interview is juxtaposed with the wild frenzy of the affair sex and a dolly-zoom on Cynthia's o-face only to reap all its empty passion.

Even worse is Soderbergh later compromising on Graham and festishising his character to the most agonising extremes. His impotence is suddenly magically wished away along with Ann's frigidity and they engage in a round of sensual face touching. It is suggested that his mysterious knack for getting women to broadcast all their intimate details on video has granted him some sort of license to snap up any housewives being cheated on. This is the basis of their relationship at the end, but there's nothing inspiring or cathartic about this change at all. Sex, Lies and Videotape poses that the brain is the biggest erogenous zone of them all, above anything physical, and that honesty above all is sexy and attractive. It suggests that trust is born from intimacy, and that intimacy is not born out of sex, but from something mysterious that only the long-haired James Spader with his hard hitting questions seems to possess in this messed up world.
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Sorry, not convinced
orly-yahalom10 August 2010
The film has some moments of interest and good acting, mainly by Andie MacDowell. However, all in all, I felt disappointment and boredom, which increased as the movie progressed.

The main idea in the movie is the dramatic change which the characters go through once Graham enters their lives. Well, I could not see anything about Graham that could drive such a change. Why is the introverted Ann suddenly opens up to this eccentric stranger? Why is her sister so keen to meet him, knowing basically nothing about him, and why does this meeting drive her to make a significant change in her life?

As for the Graham character itself, by the end of the movie we still know little about him, which makes it a bit awkward when Ann confronts him about his life. However, I didn't feel any interest in knowing more about him. The same goes for the other characters. Cynthia has been particularly shallow and didn't seem to have any motive in her life except resenting her sister.

I guess that the idea of talking about sex was sensational at the time, but now when it became trivial, we are left with a pretentious movie that gives little of what a good drama should.
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Soderbergh's Debut Film Mesmerizes
CitizenCaine25 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, And Videotape was all the rage at Cannes in 1989, winning the Golden Palm Award for Soderbergh and the Best Actor Award for James Spader. Soderbergh was also nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay. Despite the lurid, voyeuristic title, this film is not really about sex at all. It's about intimacy and what it takes to reach that with another person. Lies are always a barrier to that, but who would have thought that videotape would be so useful in revealing so much about people, although it actually shows little? James Spader, late of "The Practice" fame, is outstanding as the old college friend that returns to his friend's town, and stirs up the truth about each character. Peter Gallagher, currently in "The O.C.", is equally great as the lawyer, husband, who uses those in his orbit without regard to any consequences. Andie MacDowell is absolutely perfect as the conservative wife, who thinks that sex is overrated. Laura San Giacomo, from "Just Shoot Me", is also perfectly cast as the sexpot sister of MacDowell. All the actors, who weren't too well known at the time, give bull's eye performances. Rarely has any of them been as good since. Soderbergh's direction and screenplay are also responsible for the success of the film. Very little actually happens in the movie in terms of action, scene changes, and technical aspects of film in general. It's reminiscent of the many talky European films that are often very frank but where little happens. However, there is not a wasted moment in this film. Soderbergh gives us one of the most honest, mature depictions of the barriers to intimacy ever put on film. In doing so, he shows us that the characters are not free of their own ulterior motivations, even though some appear to change for the better. What is significant is that barriers to intimacy are just as difficult to face as the events that precipitate our facing them. The brief final shot speaks volumes with no dialog. ***1/2 of 4 stars.
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Plot is slim, but film is emotionally driven...
moonspinner5519 October 2006
Intelligent, surprisingly enveloping movie is one that sneaked up on a lot of people in 1989, and has that effect on the unsuspecting today. A somewhat-frigid young woman becomes fascinated with her husband's friend, an emotionally confused man whose hobby is videotaping sexual conversations with women. The film takes about a quarter of an hour to kick in, yet once the character motivations become more clear it's quite an engrossing experience, a movie that unfolds rather like a novel. For those who stick with it, an intense drama peopled with some sordid characters who are nevertheless brilliantly portrayed by the cast. Andie MacDowell, as the wife who is so homespun she can't even swear, has rarely been so complex and affecting on film. **1/2 from ****
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A bit underwhelming !!!
avik-basu188922 July 2017
On first viewing, I didn't really love it. There are aspects of it like the editing, James Spader's performance which though calm on the surface constantly hints at the darkness simmering beneath, some of the subtle camera work, etc. which I can admire. But overall I was somewhat underwhelmed. However my perception might change on subsequent viewings.
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Dated, and not necessarily in a good way
mentalcritic29 June 2005
In 1989, the idea that computers would be publicly networked into a vast library of information from which any information on any subject can be found was over the horizon. Films like Sex, Lies, And Videotape were therefore considered shocking, even perverted. Today, in this age where one can read stories on subject matters discussed by the characters in this film (or even that which the film is based around) with the click of a button, the premise is utterly passé. That it could have attracted so much attention in the US market in 1989 reveals how America's citizenry was more tightly repressed than Ann. The cast is minuscule by most standards, and there really are only four stars to speak of. The fact that half of them are about as charismatic as a puddle does not help. That I remember Earl T. Taylor's performance more clearly than James Spader's or Andie MacDowell's is not the best of signs. I am starting to believe that Jennifer Jason Leigh is glad she missed the opportunity to appear here.

I can handle films that consist of long conversations between several pairs of characters, and I can even handle films that consist of interview footage. What I cannot handle is a film partially comprised of interview footage that is so predictable and monotonous that one can guess what the character is going to say before the question is asked. It is not until about sixty-odd minutes into the film when Ann finds the evidence of Graham's affair with Cynthia that she has been challenged to produce that any spark of interest in the story is generated. By then, it is too late because most of the characters concerned are less than uncompelling. It is not the fault of the actors, as they seem perfectly competent. It is just that the characters they inhabit, the story they are telling, and the film's framing of both, have little to recommend them.

The music by Cliff Martinez attempts to inject some sliver of tension into the proceedings, but it instead succeeds in being annoying. If it could be more stilted or obvious, I do not know how. Clearly, the hearts of the composer and director were in the right place, but the result is about as interesting as a wet sock. If the film is trying to make the point that conversation is more satisfying than sex, then it has missed the mark. The conversations are flat and pointless, and the characters are as deep as a compact disc. I have never enjoyed a performance by Andie MacDowell, Groundhog Day notwithstanding. Even in Hudson Hawk, she manages to suck all the life and fun out of her character. Peter Gallagher is about as likable as a stomach ulcer, and James Spader's charisma vortex was pretty much confirmed thirteen years later in Secretary.

If the film does have a saving grace, it is the serpent-like performance from Laura San Giacomo. Her biography on the IMDb begins with "Fans and critics love Laura, she always gives a great performance", and this art-house production is no exception. She is beautiful enough to hook the men in the audience, unlike the woman playing her on-screen sister, and her performance is based around the knowledge of this fact. In every scene she plays, she steals the show. The fact that she cares enough about other people in her offscreen life, at least if the stories about her campaigning for "inclusive educational opportunities for all children" are to be believed, gives every character she portrays, including this one, a certain soul that those who occupy Sex, Lies, And Videotape with her lack. In essence, she is the heart of this film. No, let me rephrase that, she is the heart, brains, lungs, and many other things of a story whose cast of characters seem so utterly lacking it makes the attempts at pop psychology seem like they would be laughable if they were not so utterly sad.

Out of ten, I gave Sex, Lies, And Videotape a five. Those five points are for Laura San Giacomo alone. Having seen this film twice on occasions about five to ten years apart, I can honestly say I never saw what all the fuss was about. Judging from the fact that the film was pretty much tossed onto DVD like a piece of trash onto a garbage heap, I am guessing that the film-making community has similar feelings.
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Whatever turns you on
paul2001sw-124 February 2004
Soderbergh's much praised debut, 'Sex, Lies and Videotape', is a wry, low-key, self-consciously knowing but somewhat stilted account of the sexual lives, and problems, of a group of four closely connected southern Americans. Having seen it twice, once on release and once recently, all I can say is that this particular piece of videotape does nothing much for me, as it tells a believable but uninteresting story. Fun for the big hair, otherwise a well-crafted but faintly pointless movie.
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What is it about James Spader...?
cpg-214 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie when it came out years ago and loved it. I added it to my list of "must-see" movies that circulates among my family.

Then I saw Secretary on DVD just last week and recalled with the force of a cyclone exactly why James Spader is among my favorite character actors: he is different and real and....something elusively else.

I re-rented SL&V this weekend and watched it twice. He is subtle, a bit creepy, vulnerable, itchy...and something else...OUCH...really, painfully, oddly sexually attractive. I think I need to buy these two movies to watch in the wee hours.

My husband and I have had (SEMI-SPOILER!) long conversations about what we think went on after he turned off the camera with Ann.

So many of his other movies don't give Spader this range of opportunities (Secretary does, happily!), except maybe Less Than Zero (with another sexy-creepy favorite, Rob't Downey Jr).

It bears repeat watching, just for him.

On the DVD, the director's commentary with Soderberg, is insanely annoying and inane. Even in crucial scenes, he cannot stop talking about really inappropriate and uninteresting things.

See the movie, SKIP the commentary.
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Eroticism and Frustration Just Don't Mix *
edwagreen11 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This film is not exactly Tennessee Williams's "A Steetcar Named Desire." Given, we have plenty of frustration, anxiety, eroticism and utter despair shown, but the film essentially becomes a moody piece of unhappiness, deceit and repressed sexual desires.

The performances are good, especially those of Andie McDowall and Peter Gallagher as the apparently unhappy couple engaging in their sexual peccadillo's.

As the sister engaged in an affair with her brother-in-law, Laura Saint Jacamo is appealing, but the material she has to work with leaves a lot to be desired.

In the age of taping and other technological advances, we need to know why these people engage in the behavior they do. We come away with a totally unsatisfying feeling after viewing the film.
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A movie that shows you don't need lush sets, big budgets, or loud background music to be extraordinary.
triple810 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers

Sex Lies and Videotape relies on the bare minimum of movie "accessories". There are no elaborate sets, constant background music or explosions, exotic locations etc. What this movie does is make you listen. It relies entirely on the Performers to hook you in. There isn't any background stuff going on, just the sound of the performers' voices. It shows one, how truly incredibly GOOD a movie can be when it pays attention to the dialog.

I'm not one to outline the whole plot, as many reviewers have already done that and many reading this already know what it's about. What I want to do is comment on the humanness of the film. To me, a movie becomes truly superb when it almost ceases to become a movie and you feel like your watching a story enfolding right in front of you. This film's focus is on four people, all seriously troubled when it comes to both sex and love and relationships. It is mostly a character study and entirely dialog driven. The movie is at the mercy of it's talent and I say that because if people with lesser talents had been chosen for these roles, I doubt the quality would still be here. It is, in that regard, similar to one of my favorite films of 2004, a movie by the name of Closer. That movie, too, dealt with the above mentioned issues and though the plot was different the performers needed to be the best they could be, to make the film a success.

Sex lies and Videotape is a movie where one does not want it to end. It's also a movie where, the ultimate outcome is less important, then finding out who these people are and what makes them tick. They are interesting and the reason they are, is because they are real people. And like real people, they have issues. They aren't perfect feel good imaginary characters, their flawed, fearful and real. And much more interesting then many of the Stepford characters so prevalent in movies.

The performances were all flawless, particularly Spader who managed to make his character troubled, all knowing, haunted and(in spite of his hobby) PURE-not an easy thing to do. An Oscar worthy performance.

I happen to think this is not just good, but outstanding. It gets 9 of 10 from me and is a movie I'd strongly recommend. Although it's called Sex, LIES and Videotape, it doesn't get much more honest then this movie. A definite must see.
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keys, plants, and impotence
dustybooks26 January 2005
If you've never seen this movie, you're in for quite a treat. Few chronicles of marital dysfunction are as lovably enigmatic and outright hilarious as this one, which is blessed with outstanding performances by Peter Gallagher, Andie Macdowell, James Spader, and Laura San Giacomo. The story itself is the picture of simplicity, but its sheer finesse, honesty, and almost noirish style make it more than just your everyday indie comedy/drama.

That's largely because of Steven Soderbergh's creative restlessness. In his debut he pulls every trick in the book to keep your emotions in check as you follow what initially seems to be a set of four wildly messed-up characters, then the puzzles all fall into place with numerous moments that will come back to you for some time afterward. There's haunting wisdom here about human nature and the way relationships work, but most of all the way they break down. That would mean nothing to me if the movie didn't have its quiet but delicious humor. That's what keeps it grounded and makes it -- in its own strange way -- so touching.

This extremely well-written and exquisitely directed little classic is a textbook example of the way character development ought to be delivered, with full conviction and not a series of pseudo-eccentric shortcuts, all wrapped in a movie that at the end of the day is just a lot of fun to watch, which I tend to believe is what movies should strive to be.
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Yuppie garbage
titanicflint24 January 2007
It's films like this that give repulsive, self-centered yuppies a bad name! Pretentious, unfocused and boring it's beyond me how this film managed to get made in the first place. The fact that it managed to win all kinds of awards and even develop some kind of a cult following is even more baffling. For starters the plot(for lack of a better word) is totally incomprehensible, so I won't even go there. The characters are even worse. Not one of them is even half-way close to being sympathetic. A good psychiatrist wouldn't touch any of this crew with a 10-foot couch. Bluntly put they deserve each other. Nuff said. It was more than a decade after sitting through this before I would willingly watch an Andie McDowell movie. As for the rest of the cast well... I left the theater feeling that the filmmakers were having a big laugh at the audience's expense. Avoid this one like the plague! Unless you're having a bad case of insomnia.
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Except this, you got nothing else! (DVD)
leplatypus24 June 2009
This is the worst movie I have seen this year.

The story can be written on a stamp. Maybe talking about sex was a discovery for the American people but in France, we got tons of empty movies like this, so we are immunized!

There aren't any locations: all happens in bedrooms, kitchen or living-room.

The cast is awful between the husband, the sister and the "angelic" director. Poor Andie is terribly alone.

Music is silence and if you think the director (the real one) played with the editing, mixing between tapes and reels, you are wrong!

It's incomprehensible how this movie can be awarded by the "Palme d'or" at Cannes festival but it is his unique merit!
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