Early on in Kissing on the Mouth, Ellen (Kate Winterich), slumped on her living room couch with her best friend Laura (Kris Williams), tries to explain the attendent problems of continuing to have sex with an ex. "I just wish," Ellen sighs, "that we could do it without everyone watching."
The film (much like another SXSW Emerging Visions entry, Arin Crumley and Susan Buice's Four-Eyed Monsters) - goes on to ask the next logical question: if we can't live our lives in private - because we live in cities, and/or in tiny apartments with roommates, and/or because we're artists and we mediate the world around us through various technologies of representation - is it next-best to go the other way entirely, to open oneself and put it all out there? If "everyone" is going to be watching anyway, mightn't we give them something to see?
Kissing on the Mouth is a film about people who are old enough to have sex but not mature enough to smartly navigate their interpersonal relationships. The characters dream aloud about one-night stands and keep themselves obsessively groomed for sex, but also admit to feeling like adolescents. It follows Ellen, a recent college graduate who shares an apartment with Patrick (Joe Swanberg), and spends most of her time either sleeping with her ex-boyfriend Chris (Kevin Pittman), or gossiping about their trysts with Laura, or working overtime to hide her afternoon sexcapades from Patrick. She goes home on the weekends to do her laundry and avoid having to make any sort of life decisions.
Ellen is the kind of girl you meet a lot in real life but almost never see on screen. She's beautiful (kind of like a brunette Julia Stiles) but hardly glamourous; at the same time, her over-plucked eyebrows and post-shower rituals before the mirror bespeak a private vanity that would ruin her public image. She carries herself as if everything's fine, she treats people as though she expects them to expect that she's in control, but inside she's crumbling quietly. Only Patrick dares to push the buttons that will crack Ellen's facade. Ellen is so used to being able to manipulate men that she can't handle it when Patrick keeps secrets. Patrick is partially only keeping secrets in order to have ammunition against Ellen. Both are lying to one another less than they're lying to themselves. In their scenes together, the two actors bounce expertly off one another, two bullshitters constantly shifting gears to narrowly miss each other, until the inevitable head-on collision.
Technically, the film (shot on what appears to be prosumer DV) doesn't look great. It's well edited but the imagery is somehow both drab and harsh. It did not benefit, on that score, from screening immediately after the visual buffet of Four-Eyed Monsters. But this is nitpicking; the dialogue and performances are so well developed, and develops so well over the course of the narrative, that the visual aesthetics hardly matter.
It's a sexually explicit film. The four lead actors have actual sex in it. Kind of a lot. For kind of a long time. People don't make movies like this in America (if at all), and it is bound to make some viewers uncomfortable. The sex doesn't feel exploitative or unnecessary, but at times it feels gratuitious. This is part of the putting-it-all-out-there thing: the filmmakers are using graphic sexuality to make a point, which to some extent works, but I still think there could be less of it, and the film would slightly improve. At the same time, they wisely juxtapose the sex scenes with audio interviews of other young people talking about break-ups and relationships. It's a case of 1+1 equalling 6; the audio and the video bounce off one another to take the viewer to several other places.
If you're in town and want to see Kissing on the Mouth, it is playing this afternoon at 4pm at the Dobie. It's definitely worth a look. I'm also hoping to do a podcast interview with the filmmakers sometime before they leave.