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REVIEW: Famke Janssen does Alvy Singer? Breiman’s Tale of “Love and Sex”

REVIEW: Famke Janssen does Alvy Singer? Breiman's Tale of "Love and Sex"

REVIEW: Famke Janssen does Alvy Singer? Breiman's Tale of "Love and Sex"

by G. Allen Johnson

(indieWIRE/8.24.00) –Kate Welles is moody, brash and hilarious — she describes herself as knowing more about blowjobs than relationships. But she’s not an over-the-top, in-your-face Angelina Jolie-esque creation. She’s a normal young single woman who happens to be good-looking, living in L.A., and looking for the right guy.

Writer-director Valerie Breiman found the right woman to neurotically power her sharply written reverse-image of Woody Allen‘s “Annie Hall” — called “Love & Sex” — in talented Dutch-born actress Famke Janssen. Her breakout, tour-de-farce performance displays keen intelligence, wicked wit and a weakness for kittens. Janssen, who squeezed men to death with her legs as a villain in the James Bond flick “Goldeneye,” merely talks them to death in “Love & Sex.” In so doing, she has pulled off a unique double this summer: She’s in the season’s best Hollywood action film, “X-Men,” as the coolly intelligent Dr. Jean Gray, and now she charges ahead in one of the best indies. “Love & Sex” opens Friday in New York and L.A.

“Love is a minefield,” Kate tells us in her opening narration. “You take a step, get blown to pieces, put yourself back together again and stupidly take another step. I guess that’s human nature. It hurts so much to be alone we’d rather get blown up than remain single.” In other words, we need the eggs, and that’s not the only “Annie Hall” reminder. Kate, like Alvy Singer, is a writer, and tells her sexual history in a loose flashback structure. “Nosferatu,” the original German Expressionist silent, obsesses her like “Sorrow and the Pity” torments Alvy. There’s even a memorable scene in a yellow Volkswagen recalling Annie’s bad driving.

But “Love & Sex” finds its own way to deliver some truths about relationships. Kate meets an artist, Adam (Jon Favreau), who is so struck by her at his own exhibition that he literally wills her to be his girlfriend (viewer advice: don’t ever try this at home; it only works in the movies. In the real world it gets your ass kicked). Soon, they move in together, and Adam’s insecurities begin to wear on Kate. In trading information, Adam says he has slept with two girls previously, while Kate causes his jaw drop by admitting she has slept with a baker’s dozen. “Thirteen!” Adam exclaims. “You’re like a whore!”

Well, that’s how guys think.

The on again, off again relationship allows Breiman (who presumably didn’t get the leeway to flesh out deep issues in her first two films, a pair of fleshy comedies called “Going Overboard,” Adam Sandler‘s first film in 1989, and “Bikini Squad” in 1993) to explore the ever-present fear of being alone and her central theme: How do you know when you’re in the “right” relationship? Your “forever” one, in other words.

Breiman’s insightful slices of life hang mainly on the central relationship. Favreau and Janssen don’t look like a couple, but their precision comic timing and enthusiasm are believable, and they develop real chemistry (so much so that Favreau cast Janssen in his directorial debut, “Made,” to be released in 2001). It helps that the dialogue is a la “Swingers” — hip, natural and observational, elements that allow Favreau to excel.

The plot conventions — kittens, an unwanted pregnancy, and the flashbacks (some nonsense about Kate being fired by her editor unless she writes a story about love that she really believes, yeah right) — are mere window dressing for what we already know: These two belong together, and we want them to be together.

After all, Kate really doesn’t have much choice. She isn’t going to wind up with the dumb actor, or the yuppie she gets arrested with after they get into a car accident and then a violent argument (“Have you got plans for dinner,” the yuppie says in the back of the police car. “I mean, after we make bail?”).

Relationships are indeed confusing, and “Love and Sex” does a great job in showing how human beings tend to make them more complicated than they really are. In simple truth, the right relationship is someone you are able to “feel normal around,” as Adam says at one point. Question is, just what is normal? For Breiman, it’s the one you can say to: “I cheese slice you.”

[G. Allen Johnson is a contributing film critic to indieWIRE.]

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