Review: Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989)


I’m not much for the lying, but I am a fan of both sex and videotape, we’ll see how this goes!

Written By: Steven Soderbergh
Directed By: Steven Soderbergh

Hmmm, where do I start with Sex, Lies And Videotape? It was a movie that required plenty of thought because it was essentially a theme movie. The story played second fiddle to the issues or themes that director Steven Soderbergh wanted to put forth. This ended up being both a strength and a weakness of Sex, Lies And Videotape. Because while at times the theme first approach worked, it also failed in the moments where deeper inspection of the characters and their actions was required.

Sex, Lies And Videotape took a deep look at the topics of sex, marriage, honesty, gender roles within sex and life, and surprisingly conversation or basic human interaction. It brought forth a world where the conversation or the chase is more important than the ultimate goal of sex. I felt that the karma like ending with the husband getting his just due was a bit of a cheat from the immersion into those themes. In a movie that had been very much focused on the irregular or the way of thinking outside the norm, the ending felt far too normal and far too black & white. But, back to the themes themselves for a second. I particularly liked the exploration of gender roles in sex and how Cynthia was the atypical view society has of men in regards to sex. This was juxtaposed in Graham who took on the role of the societal view of women in sex.

In a movie where themes are more important than the story, it falls to the actors to make sure those themes play out through their actions and through their believability as the vessel for said themes. Therein lies the biggest fault in Sex, Lies And Videotape. Andie MacDowell is a much maligned actress, but I thought she was remarkably spot on as the vanilla housewife in this film. The same goes for Laura San Giacomo as the sexually open Cynthia and Peter Gallagher as the duplicitous John. However, I didn’t find James Spader’s portrayal of Graham to be in line with what that character needed. There’s no way to buy all those women sitting down and exposing their inner most sexual thoughts and desires as well as displaying themselves sexually for someone like Graham as Spader played him. He went too much for the nerdy misanthrope and in doing so made his character the least believable of the bunch.

Sex, Lies And Videotape is regarded in high circles among Soderbergh fans and among film aficionados who view it as the indie film that made indie movies cool again as well as shaped the indie style for years to come. There’s plenty to love about Sex, Lies And Videotape. From its layered themes, to its wonderful dialogue and use of settings and locales. But, the ending comes across as false, Spader is a bit of a let down and the theme first approach doesn’t always work. Still, Sex, Lies And Videotape is a good film and it is a good introduction to the work of a director who went on to achieve a bit of a cult status in film circles.




7 responses to “Review: Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989)

  1. You did not get the whole point of the movie. Soderberg faced 2 characters whose morals and vision of sex, women, and love are far from another one. Opposed. Graham has to have feelings in order to have sex whereas the husband has to have sex in order to feel. It’s not just because one is in need of viagra. Soderberg goes deeper saying : marriage is a hypocrite institution and someone who looks pointless (Graham) is in fact far more worthy than the husband whose shallow moral rivals is superficial world. It looks on the surface as he is got everything but in fact he hasnt got a clue ! This is why it is such a brillant film. It needs reflexion.

  2. Can I tell you something, I’m not so pompous as to ever tell someone that they missed the “point” of a film and when people say that to me I tune them out, sorry.

    Next time tell someone that maybe there’s a deeper meaning that they could find on a rewatch, or that maybe if they looked at the film form a different perspective they would get more out of it. Telling someone that they missed the “point” is ignorant and a fast track to myself, and many others, ignoring you.

  3. funkyjeff77

    Don’t take it personnal but your review missed points Soderberg wanted to tell the listeners, not me. It’s about reviewing ideas, not persons. My choice of words may have left you to believed I am pretentious, however I hold this interpretation of the movie comes from the director himself. Not my own interpretation. When I look up a foreign movie or a Kubrick movie, I try to read a bit about the piece before seeing the big picture.

    Your review could’ve included these precisions by Soderberg, there are not to be underrated since that’s what he wanted to say. It’s all I wanted to say my friend, there is no need to be angry about that..

  4. I’m not angry, I’m simply calling your post out for what it is. Listen, you want to take into account what the director has said, that’s fine, but that’s not how I view movies nor how I view art. I am a follower of the interpretive theory, and that means that the film comes down to what each individual viewer takes away from it.

    Everything you are saying can be boiled down to a difference of interpretation because if you say “X” is there and I say “X” isn’t there, we are both correct since both of our interpretations are valid. You however aren’t saying that, you are saying your interpretation is correct and others are wrong, and that is not something I can get behind.

  5. funkyjeff77

    If I follow your logic then I, as a history teacher, could say : The holocaust did not happen since it’s all a matter of interpretation. Socrates, and greek philosopher have however demonstrated that an argument can be break down and demonstrated to be false or correct.

    I don’t agree with the scope that we can’t take the creator intend in account. Sometimes it’s relevant and sometimes it’s not. Let me give you an example ok? A German friend of mine, living 2hours from me, was talking to me endlessly about Michael Haneke’s movies. One of the most talked about director’s in current Germany. Upon seeing the controversial Funny games, which uses violence in order to denonce it, he told me : you should the interview with Haneke. After seeing it once, I wasn’t too impressed. But after reading his interview, I came to realise its message and how the movie was meant to be a metaphor of how society accepts violence on TV and movies just so easily. I then read in a french newspaper an amazing review of the movie which used the director’s aim in order to make the reader’s understand his goal. And heck, I am not too fond of reviews, but this one was an impressive demonstration of logic. You could still like or dislike the movie, but the female reviewer was argumenting like a pro and demonstrating what the movie was about. Now what the individuals take from the movie it’s up to them, what was interesting in that case was to understand was the movie was about. Which is not always easy to decipher, especially when the interpretation is open like that. “L’important n’est pas de convaincre mais de donner à réfléchir” – dixit Bernard Weber.

  6. funkyjeff77

    And might I add that there could be much more than one interpretation say like 2001 a space odyssey, but not all of them could be right, or wrong 😉 Cheers 😉

  7. Interpretive theory only holds true for art, it can’t and shouldn’t be applied to real life situations. To do so would be pretty dangerous and create a chaotic state that wouldn’t benefit anyone.

    I’ll say this to finalize my thoughts on the matter, interpretive theory has always been in my mind the most welcoming and open of all art theories. If you want to take what a creator says into account interpretive theory allows you to do that (I choose not to because I believe in pure interpretation as seen through the eyes of the individualize). If you want to ignore what a creator or someone else says then interpretive theory also allows that. The other theories have never appealed to me because they are too concerned with right and wrong and miss the true beauty of the relationship between art and subject.

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