How the Other Half Laughs: What Happens When Two Straight but Spunky Girls Decide to Test out a Lesbian Relationship? Kissing Jessica Stein's Creators and Stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt Smooch and Tell. (Film)

By Stukin, Stacie | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), March 19, 2002 | Go to article overview

How the Other Half Laughs: What Happens When Two Straight but Spunky Girls Decide to Test out a Lesbian Relationship? Kissing Jessica Stein's Creators and Stars Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt Smooch and Tell. (Film)


Stukin, Stacie, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


Heather Juergensen and Jennifer Westfeldt are sitting in a Los Angeles cafe gesticulating. As they discuss Kissing Jessica Stein, the movie they wrote, produced, and starred in--premiering in theaters in March under the Fox Searchlight banner--their enthusiasm is boundless. But when a woman approaches the table to tell them she loved the picture, modesty prevails. Broad smiles and mumbles of "Thank you" take the place of flailing arms as these two unknown performers from New York experience the first tremors of fame.

The tale of an ostensibly straight, charming, yet neurotic Jewish girl who falls in love with a woman, Kissing Jessica Stein struck a chord with film festival audiences this past year. "We wanted to explore what happens when a woman decides to take the tenderness and intimacy that exists in female friendships and make it more complete," says Westfeldt, who plays Jessica ("the Jewish Sandra Dee," she deadpans, with a ditsy comic timing that recalls Lisa Kudrow).

First conceived on a napkin during a lunch break when Juergensen and Westfeldt were enrolled in the Ensemble Studio Theatre company in New York, Kissing Jessica Stein started out as a piece of theater. A Hollywood studio optioned the film rights, but the project foundered in development hell. When Westfeldt and Juergensen decided to buy back their rights and make the film themselves, everyone with any filmmaking expertise told them they were crazy. Recalls Westfeldt: "Two unknowns in a romantic comedy? `Forget it,' they said."

With the gift of perseverance that naivete brings, the women forged on, shooting film even when they knew there was no money to edit. "If we knew then what we do now, I'm sure we would not have gone for it the way we did," says Juergensen.

Jessica's New York stow unfolds after Stein, a lonely newspaper journalist who's thoroughly disillusioned with dating, decides to answer a personal ad placed by a woman simply because she can't resist its nod to her favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. …

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