Writer/director Steven Soderbergh – now best known for Erin Brockovich (2000) and the Oscar-winning Traffic (2000) – made a striking debut with this drama that went on to win the Palme D’Or and Best Actor awards at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival.
Sex, Lies and Videotape was written in just eight days and filmed on location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Soderbergh’s hometown), in five weeks on a budget of just $1.2 million.
The film has since been credited with transforming the independent movie industry and enticing mainstream audiences to see small-scale indie films they otherwise would have missed.
Andie MacDowell, in her first leading role following appearances in St Elmo’s Fire (1985) and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984), stars as Ann Mullaney, a perfect wife stuck in a dull, almost sexless marriage to John (Peter Gallagher), an egotistical lawyer.
Unbeknownst to Ann, John is having an affair with her feisty bartender sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo), but all the secrets and lies in their combined relationships are revealed when John’s former school friend Graham (James Spader) drives into town and forces the others to face truths about themselves and each other.
Graham, of course, has surprises of his own to be exposed – he has a car full of videotapes he has made over nine years, each featuring a woman openly confessing intimate sexual secrets. But how did he get all these women to open up to him?
Soderbergh’s dialogue is breathtakingly frank, and he fills his film with skilled actors who deliver their lines brilliantly.
Former model MacDowell – who has yet to give a better performance – is terrific as the prissy Southern flower, and San Giacomo a discovery as her uninhibited sibling.
But the film really belongs to James Spader – a former teen actor – Pretty In Pink (1986), Less Than Zero (1987) – who here shows an unexpected depth and sensitivity as he expertly portrays the most interesting of Soderbergh’s repressed quartet.
Formerly a compulsive liar, now filled with self-disgust, Graham has cut himself off from real life and only watching the video tapes can now arouse him.
Ann Bishop Mullaney
Laura San Giacomo
Girl on tape
Earl T. Taylor