Good Kisser

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Good Kisser
"Exploring the dynamics of intellectual attraction as well as physicality, Carlton uses the microcosm of the threesome to consider the different things that people look for in relationships." | Photo: Courtesy of Outfest

"We're going on a date with another woman," says Jenna (Kari Alison Hodge), when asked by her taxi driver if she and her girlfriend are going to be doing anything fun in the evening. In her excited but nervous tone, in the taxi driver's polite disinclination to enquire further, a world of possibilities is manifest. Wendy Jo Carlton's smartly observed drama nevertheless manages to pack in a few surprises.

Hodge exudes sweetness as the shy younger woman who is clearly going along with all this at her girlfriend's request. She realises that it could be an introduction to a world of new pleasures but she's actually very contended with the way things are, just her and Kate (Rachel Paulson), and she's always anxious in dealing with new situations, worried that she might do something wrong. Their supremely confident date, Mia (Julia Eringer), does her best to put her at her ease. She offers drinks, nibbles and silly games to reduce the tension. She massages Jenna's wrists and neck with ice to help her cope with the hot weather. She assures her that there's no pressure to actually have sex if she doesn't want to.

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"If you want, you can just leave," says Kate, more clumsily - and then, when she catches Jenna's eyes, "We. I mean we."

The sex, when it happens, is of the slow paced, underwear-retaining, sheet-clutching variety that some people find romantic and others consider one of the worst clich├ęs of lesbian cinema. To be fair, Carlton is trying to communicate a lot of different things with it, and erotic frisson is the least of her concerns. There's a moment when it becomes a little more adventurous (and if you try this at home, dear readers, clean up very thoroughly afterwards - sugar is bad for you in more ways than one), but this is primarily about a shift in character dynamics. The power balance between the three women is complicated.

Exploring the dynamics of intellectual attraction as well as physicality, Carlton uses the microcosm of the threesome to consider the different things that people look for in relationships and the distorting effect that things like youth, fame and unavailability can have on what we think we want. Although the focus is very much on Jenna, who manages to be scatterbrained without being annoying or coming across as stupid, and whom most viewers will find easy to sympathise with, we also get to see something of Kate's emotional disarray, and even the cool Mia is permitted her moments of weakness. Though she's generally in control of the situation, we get little hints that she's missing something in her life and doesn't feel as lucky as others assume she is.

There's huge dramatic potential in such scenarios and they remain underexplored in cinema, often considered too racy for the mainstream and too artsy or remote for those seeking erotic entertainment. Carlton strikes a good balance in a film that really ought to have a lot of mainstream appeal. Her script is incisive and sometimes very funny and she understands her subjects well. Hodge, too often relegated to minor supporting roles, really shows what she's made of. Like that initial conversation in the taxi, this film is brimming with potential.

Reviewed on: 27 Jul 2019
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The different expectations brought to a threesome by each half of a couple and the woman they meet lead to unexpected problems.

Director: Wendy Jo Carlton

Writer: Wendy Jo Carlton

Starring: Rachel Paulson, Kari Alison Hodge, Julia Eringer, Courtney McCullough, Carter Rodriquez

Year: 2019

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

OutfestLA 2019

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