Sex, Lies, and Videotape Review

More than ten years after the film was released, Sex, Lies And Videotape encapsulates the affluent young American thirtysomething's growing obsession with the art of therapy. The twenty-first century has seen the world look inwards at itself more than any other timeframe, and one's exhibition of one's own intimate details, whether physical or mental, is now more common place than ever.

Steven Soderbergh's first feature, Sex, Lies And Videotape explores what is essentially society's emerging desensitised attitude to sexual intercourse, and how the ritualistic exchanges on route to sex have become more appealing. The film champions the art of erotic conversation, as hidden behind the smokescreen of neurotic psycho-babble.

Sex, Lies And Videotape focuses on four characters whose lives are problematic because of sex. Ann (Andie MacDowell) is a frustrated housewife who has lost interest in having sex with her hotshot lawyer husband John (Peter Gallagher). John is having an affair with Ann's sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), a sexually adventurous woman in comparison to Ann. The dynamic of this sexual triangle is disturbed when John's old friend Graham (James Spader) visits. Graham effortlessly unlocks Ann's frustrations, and could prove to influence the sexual hierarchy of the group.

Sex, Lies And Videotape ridicules the notion that anyone can willingly expose their soul to a stranger and expect to benefit from it. Also, it demonstrates that trust can easily be built on a foundation of lies and misplaced intuition. Ann instantly and instinctively trusts the newcomer Graham because as a form of ice-breaking they reveal some personal secrets. Even her sister Cynthia trusts Graham more than John, despite having a full-on sexual relationship with the latter, because Graham takes more of an interest in her sexual experiences than John has ever shown. However, the two women know little about Graham, and anything they do know is based entirely on what he tells them. Because the characters in Sex, Lies And Videotape can easily have sex if they wish, the intimacy has been completely stripped away, and so both Ann and Cynthia are interested in Graham because his impotency seems to remove the issue of potential intercourse. The two sisters don't really want to have sex, they just want to talk about it, and in particular, themselves. It's as if the neurotic attention paid to therapy has been exploited as mere devices for both attention seeking and arousal.

The four performances in Sex, Lies And Videotape are fantastic, and despite the fact that James Spader won Best Actor at Cannes his is not a standout performance above the rest. Spader gives a kooky ambiguity to the character of Graham; you want to believe his nature is good and yet something sinister always seem to lurk beneath his pleasant exterior. Andie MacDowell's Ann is the film's most likeable character because she generates the most pity. She's wholesome and attractive, but gives the impression of a sexually repressed neurotic zombie, unaware that she needs freeing from her marriage. Peter Gallagher generates the correct level of arrogance and charisma as John, he evokes mental comparisons with a young Warren Beatty. Laura San Giacomo gives Sex, Lies And Videotape her best performance as Cynthia, mainly due to the fact that she is arguably the film's most troubled character, even more so than Graham. She's sexually promiscuous on the surface, but her relationship with Ann suggests a traumatic familial past.

Sex, Lies And Videotape is intensely moody, but then so was its director Steven Soderbergh back in the late eighties and early nineties. Soderbergh provides in the film a narrative that is unresolved despite being linear. The third act is far from a satisfactory pay-off, but this just underlines the film's more cynical edge. Soderbergh employs a claustrophobic tone to the film, he strips locations of any beauty and he deliberately removes any erotic tension from the character interplay. It's as if he doesn't want the audience to favour any of the characters over one another, as if we are supposed to be kept at arm's length from the emotional content.

Now more than ten years old, age has removed some of the grit from Sex, Lies And Videotape but the film still manages to immerse the viewer in a pounding psychological drama that contains some brilliant performances. Now that Soderbergh has slipped into a more mainstream status, maybe it's time to start revisiting films such as this or Kafka to recall his early promise.

Academy Awards 1989

Academy Award Nominations 1989
Best Original Screenplay - Steven Soderbergh

Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer to Sex, Lies And Videotape is generally very good, although the contrast level is slightly too gloomy and are few marks of grain and dirt are present.

Presented in Dolby Stereo, the sound mix is mostly confined to the central well due to the film's dialogue and cheap-budget origins. On occasions the sound level dips in volume and some hiss is apparent, although for the most part the sound mix is fine. The Region 1 version contained a 5.1 mix which is missing from this Region 2 release, but this 5.1 mix was barely different to the 2.0 mix.

Menu: A silent and static menu consisting of a few promotional shots from the film.

Packaging: The usual MGM budget release, with a transparent amaray casing housing the inlay which contains the chapter listings on its reverse.

Sadly, this MGM Region 2 release contains no extras, which is even more disappointing considering the Region 1 version contained a trailer and more importantly a decent commentary in which Soderbergh is interviewed by director Neil Labute.


An interesting psychological drama of middle-class sexual alienation, Sex, Lies And Videotape is given a bare-bones disc by MGM that is inferior when compared to the Region 1 version. Still, at a cheap price, this might be worth a look, even if re-watch value might prove to be limited.

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